Three Easy, Elegant Christmas Menus
Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
Prosecco or Cava
This stew combines all the elements of an ancient feast (the seven fishes likely represent the seven sacraments) in an innovative, sophisticated way. You will want impeccably fresh fish, shellfish, and seafood stock, so be sure to order what you need from your fishmonger ahead of time. Because this dish is all about the ingredients, your work in the kitchen takes just 15 minutes. Basil lends its fragrance to the stew and to a winter fruit salad on Christmas Day.
The components of this dish and the fruit salad from the brunch menu keep well, so you can buy them a few days ahead of time. On Christmas Eve morning, get the enjoyably messy task of seeding the pomegranate out of the way. To bring the meal to a close, add something nice for dessert -- and that's where a great bakery or sweets shop comes in. Arranging cookies, chocolates, or a plum pudding on a pretty plate is a way to create bounty without creating more work.
Christmas Brunch Menu
Young Fontina from northern Italy, a superb melting cheese, adds lushness and a little tang to the strata. Don't make the mistake of relegating the dish to your brunch file; it makes a hearty Sunday-night supper all winter long. And remember to put whole nutmeg on your shopping list; a bit of the freshly grated spice amplifies the other flavors, and you'll miss it if it's not there.
Think of the cheddar puffs as emergency rations to keep hunger at bay before church or while opening presents. The sweet-tart play of a winter fruit salad, which gets a lift from basil syrup, tempers the richness of the meal. Set out pitchers of orange and grapefruit juices and a few beautiful bottles of sparkling water and Prosecco. That way, your guests can easily mix and match to their heart's content. Comfort and joy, you see, are the order of the day.
Christmas Dinner Menu
A capon, which weighs a good eight or nine pounds, is a young male chicken that has been neutered. The snow-white breast meat is very tender and finely textured. You can find capons fresh or frozen at butcher shops and many supermarkets. Escarole, a juicy member of the chicory family, is popular in southern Italy. Like other pot greens, it's at its best in winter. What takes it over the top is a quick bit of kitchen alchemy: shallots sauteed in olive oil until they're crisp and golden brown. Fry the shallots two days before the feast to check one more task off your list.
Make the crepes for the cake up to a month ahead, when you put together the cheddar puffs. Then pop everything into the freezer. The lemon curd can be made the week before; if you don't have time, use store-bought, and lighten it with whipped cream -- the cake will still be delicious.