Christmas food special: Continental Christmas

The New Festive Spirit. A Christmas food and drink special

On the eve of the 21st century, it would be a shame to be unduly insular in your Christmas celebrations. But that doesn't mean that you need to abandon tradition. Instead, tap into the increasingly eclectic, international character of modern culture by picking and mixing seasonal treats from all over Europe - and beyond. Introducing a cosmopolitan guide to the very best in contemporary festive fare, Michael Bateman offers a taste of some continental dishes that you can eat in select London restaurants this season, or make for yourself at home

Beer and akvavit (schnapps) are the essentials of the Danish Christmas, which is still known as Jul, a pre-Christian word meaning not one party but many. December in Denmark is an endless round of parties, which revolve around a groaning smorgasbord of more than 40 dishes, including cold meats, eggs, pickled herring and gravadlax, followed by hot fish dishes and roasts. The feast culminates in a creamy rice pudding that contains a single almond - the equivalent of the lucky sixpence in a Christmas pudding. Roast loin of pork with crackling (see right) is a central dish. For flavour it is essential to use free-range, organic pork. The roast is traditionally served with sweet red cabbage, sweet prunes and caramelised potatoes.

ROAST LOIN OF PORK

Serves 4

1kg/2lb 4oz middle loin of pork with skin (for crackling)

6-8 peppercorns

1-2 bay leaves

200ml/7fl oz

vegetable stock

salt

1 teaspoon cornflour for thickening gravy

Preheat oven to 400F/200C/ Gas 7. Using a sharp knife, cut deep, parallel incisions in the skin and underlayer of fat of the pork. Rub thoroughly with salt, especially into the slits in the fat. Press the peppercorns and torn bay leaves into the cuts.

Place the loin on a wire rack in the top of the oven, skin side uppermost. On the shelf below place a roasting dish containing the vegetable stock. Roast the pork for one and a half hours (use an oven thermometer, if possible; the internal temperature should be 65-70C). If the crackling is not crisp enough, turn the heat to maximum (500F/250C/Gas 9) for a few more minutes.

Remove the dish of stock with its pork juices, sieve and pour off fat. Make cornflour to paste with an equal quantity of cold water, and heat with vegetable stock to make the gravy. Check seasoning.

CARAMELISED POTATOES

1kg/2lb 4oz small potatoes

5 tablespoons sugar

40g/112oz butter

Boil the potatoes in their skins. Peel and leave to cool. In a non-stick pan, dissolve the sugar. Add the butter. When the mixture starts to turn brown, turn down the heat and add the potatoes. Shake them around till they are coated and golden.

MARINATED PRUNES

250g/8oz pitted prunes

juice of five oranges

Marinate the prunes in the juice for at least three hours. Drain and warm through to serve. RED CABBAGE

1kg/2lb 4oz red cabbage

100ml/312fl oz malt vinegar

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

1 bay leaf

4 peppercorns

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

100g/312oz sugar

4 cloves

1 teaspoon salt

Chop the cabbage finely and rinse in cold water. Place in a large bowl and pour on enough boiling water to cover. Add the malt vinegar. Leave to stand for 15 minutes. Drain, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Melt the butter in large saucepan and fry the onion till soft but not brown. Add the cabbage and cook briskly for three to four minutes, stirring well. Add the sugar, wine vinegar, spices and salt, and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, depending on how tender you like the cabbage. Stir at intervals to avoid burning. Season with salt and pepper.

Recipe from Kay Lundum, who ran London's Danish club before opening his family restaurant, Lundum's, in Chelsea, which is featuring a smorgasbord buffet (pounds 24.50) from now until Christmas.

Lundum's, 119 Old Brompton Road, SW7. Tel: 0171 373 7774

In time gone by, Christmas in Piemonte was an unforgettable feast. Andrea Riva, owner of the acclaimed Riva restaurant in Barnes, remembers the meal starting immediately after Mass with an appetising plate of antipasto, consisting of salami, coppa, cotechino, zampone (a boned pig's trotter stuffed with a pork mixture) and vegetables - such as peppers, mushrooms and courgettes - preserved in oil or vinegar (sott'oglio or sottoceti). Bowls of ravioli or tortellini en brodo (soup) would follow, and saffron yellow risotto alla milanese. The main course might be boiled capon with mostarda di Cremona, a dish of spicy preserved fruit in mustard syrup. The meal would end with cheeses; for robust appetites there was panettone and perhaps a bowl of sweetened pureed chestnuts topped with whipped cream.

RIVA'S CHRISTMAS ANTIPASTO

Serves 6

Ingredients can be bought at Italian stores and from some supermarket deli counters. The polenta chips (thin-cut polenta slices, crisply fried) are an optional extra, as they must be home-made.

250g/8oz wild boar salami, finely sliced

250g/8oz culatello di Zabello (or Parma or San Daniele), a moist cured ham from the Modena region, finely sliced

250g/8oz cotechino, traditional cooking sausage, thickly sliced

approximately 250g/8oz mostarda di Cremona, (the fruit should be chopped)

6 chestnut cakes (see below)

6-12 dried figs

polenta chips

fonduta (150g/5oz fontina cheese, melted over a low heat, with some fine slices of white truffle added)

salad leaves such as treviso

chopped parsley for garnish

Arrange the elements stylishly, laying the ham across the figs, the mostarda in the leaves. The polenta chips are to dip into the fonduta.

CHESTNUT AND LENTIL CAKES

150g/512oz prepared chestnuts (tinned, from a packet, or freshly boiled)

100g/312oz green lentils (such as Puy)

12 white onion, chopped

3 leaves sage

1 egg, beaten

7 tablespoons grated Parmesan

butter and olive oil for frying

Wash lentils. Cook in boiling salted water till al dente (about 25 minutes). Drain. Fry the onion in butter with the sage leaves until soft but not brown. Crush the chestnuts and mix with the lentils, onion, egg and Parmesan. Shape into cakes and fry in oil over medium heat, until crisp.

Recipe from Francesco Zanchetta, 31, who trained at Harry's Bar in Venice, and who has been chef at Riva since it opened 10 years ago. His cooking combines the best of his native Modena and of Lake Como in Piemonte, home to Andrea Riva.

Riva, 169 Church Road, London SW13. Tel: 0181 748 0434

In Gascony, home of Pierre Koffman, the celebrated chef-patron of La Tante Claire, they celebrate Christmas twice, with the first feast on Christmas Eve and the second on Christmas Day. One meal would be taken at home, the other with an aunt, he says, and if there was goose at one, there would be turkey at the other. Oysters would feature on the menu - Christmas in France is unthinkable without them - and, of course, foie gras. In Gascony it was baked in a cabbage leaf. A classic component of the French Christmas is the Bouche de Noelle cake. This is Koffmann's own recipe.

BOUCHE DE NOELLE

For the butter cream:

150g/512oz butter

12g/12fl oz coffee extract (or intensely strong black coffee)

50g/134oz egg whites

For the sponge base:

100g/312oz egg yolks

100g/312oz caster sugar

300g/1012oz egg whites

50g/134oz extra caster sugar

250g/9oz plain flour, sifted

Make the butter cream by beating the butter and sugar until the mixture doubles in volume. Beat in the coffee extract. Make an Italian meringue mixture: beat the egg whites in a bowl with an electric mixer. Dissolve the sugar with two tablespoons of water and heat to 230F/110C. Wait for the temperature to drop to 248F/121C, and pour it on to the egg-white mixture, continuing to beat at a low speed. Beat until mixture is quite cool. When it is cold, fold into the butter mixture, to make a light, fluffy filling.

To make the thin sponge base cream the egg yolks and 100g (4oz) sugar in a bowl, whisking until it comes away from the bowl in ribbons. In another bowl, whisk the egg white with 50g (2oz) sugar till it stiffens into peaks. Blend the two mixtures and fold in the flour gently.

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C/Gas 4. Spread non-stick baking paper on your widest, flatest oven tray. Pour the sponge mixture on it, smoothing it with a spatula. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove to cool. When cool, carefully peel off the paper and transfer the sponge to a large clean teacloth. Using a spatula, spread with the butter-cream mixture. Taking the far two ends of the cloth, use it to roll the sponge up. Trim away the untidy ends, and cut off a segment 3cm (112in) thick, and arrange on top of the "log" to represent a severed branch.

Carefully transfer the log to a cake dish or similar in order to decorate it. Spread with more butter cream, using a spatula to effect an uneven pattern.

Decorate to taste. You can create concentric rings in the "trunk" by piping melted bitter chocolate through a handmade piping bag (a square of greaseproof paper folded into a cone, with the end snipped off). In French patisseries, ornamentation may be elaborate, with chocolate leaves, red berries and little mushrooms made of meringue, coloured brown.

Pierre Koffmann has won three Michelin stars three times over. He relocated a year ago to the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, where his pastry-chef, Jean-Marc Gay-Capdevielle, prepared this cake for us.

La Tante Claire, Wilton Place, London SW1. Tel: 0171 823 2003

Come November and December, the goose becomes a staple of the Hungarian menu. All Hungarians eat it at Christmas (with red cabbage, of course). It has to be a young bird, weighing about 22kg (10lb). Although the goose carries a huge amount of fat, don't pierce the skin with a fork (this will allow the juices to run off, leaving the bird dry). Fat will run off of its own accord, and it should be poured off and reserved for roasting or frying potatoes, or for reheating cold meat later in the week. The tasty fat can be stored in the fridge for several months.

ROAST GOOSE

1 22kg/10lb goose with liver and giblets

salt

sprig of marjoram

vegetable oil and lard, for basting

For the gravy:

1 onion, chopped

2 stems celery, chopped

1 peeled carrot, chopped

Flour or cornflour to thicken

1 glass of wine

For the stuffing:

3 bread rolls

1kg/2lb 4oz canned or prepared chestnuts

1 onion, chopped

goose liver

1 apple, peeled and chopped

1 egg, beaten

salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F/200C/ Gas 7 (the goose will need 20 minutes of roasting time per pound: three hours 20 minutes for a 10-pounder). Take the goose and, leaving the thighs intact, remove and reserve the wing tips and legs. Rub the bird inside and out with salt, and rub the inside with marjoram. Put the wing tips, legs and giblets (reserving the liver) on the bottom of a large roasting dish. Lay the goose breast down on the giblets, and brush with a mixture of oil and melted lard. Roast for one and a half hours, basting with fat from time to time. Then turn the bird so that the breast is uppermost, and roast for the remaining hour and 50 minutes.

To make the stuffing, soak the rolls in water, then squeeze out the moisture. Chop chestnuts finely. Gently fry the onion until soft but not brown. Turn up heat and add the goose liver. Cook for one minute, then chop up. In a bowl, mix the chestnuts, softened bread, onion, liver, apple and egg, seasoning. Place in a small greased oven dish, (it will cook separately from the goose) and put in the oven for about half an hour to an hour.

When the bird's cooking time is up, remove it from the oven and set on a serving plate to rest for 15 minutes, laying it breast-down so that the juices run back in. Don't cover, or it will go soggy. Pour off the surplus fat from the roasting dish, then add to the remaining juices the carrot, onion, celery and glass of wine, and simmer to make the gravy. Thicken with a little flour or cornflour, strain, and season.

Serve with roast potatoes and braised red cabbage.

Recipe from Laszlo Holecz, who is not only the most distinguished Hungarian chef in London, but possibly the only one. He has held court at The Gay Hussar for 23 years.

The Gay Hussar, 2 Greek Street, London WC2. Tel: 0171 437 0973

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'