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
1kg/2lb 4oz middle loin of pork with skin (for crackling)
1-2 bay leaves
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.
1kg/2lb 4oz small potatoes
5 tablespoons sugar
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.
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
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
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
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
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:
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.
1 22kg/10lb goose with liver and giblets
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
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