Eel swim thousands of miles from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea (off the American coast) to the rivers of Europe. In Italy they are found at the mouth of the river Po, in the Tiber, and in Sicily and Sardinia. A favourite Roman recipe at Christmas is capitone, a mature female eel which is cut into chunks, marinated and cured in oil, vinegar and herbs, then grilled over charcoal. This recipe is using smaller eels and reversing the process, frying the eel chunks first, then marinating them. Marinated fish are popular in Italy and are usually eaten at the start of the meal as an antipasto. Eels are most often sold live, although they are sometimes available as steaks. A live eel is quite something to manage, so ask your fishmonger for advice. There are serious concerns surrounding the sustainability of eels, both wild and farmed (as even these are raised from wild elvers).
Lamb koftas are one of the classics of Indian cuisine, well adopted by Westerners around the world. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced or ground meat—usually beef, chicken, lamb, or pork—mixed with spices and/or onions. In India, vegetarian varieties include koftas made from potato, calabash, paneer, or banana. In Europe, kofta is served as fast food as a type of kebab. Koftas in India are usually served cooked in a spicy curry/gravy and are eaten with boiled rice or a variety of Indian breads. In Bengal, a region of eastern India, koftas are made from prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage or meat, such as minced goat meat. In Kashmir, mutton is often used in the preparation of koftas, as opposed to beef or lamb. These koftas make a very good first course or snack.
The flavours of the Mediterranean simply ooze from this decorative Greek olive bread, speckled with black olives, red onion and herbs. Originally this bread was a Lenten food for the priests of the Eastern Orthodox Church, although now olive bread or elioti is produced all over the country and can be enjoyed at any time of the year. It is generally a white bread, enriched with a little olive oil, flavoured with marjoram or oregano and studded with black olives. Throughout Greece, local bakers produce their own particular bread, which necessarily becomes a favourite with their customers. In the cities, the more enterprising bakeries produce a wide range of breads flavoured with raisins, olives and herbs, but among the islands and in the mountains, most loaves continue to be of the plain, farmhouse variety – large and crusty and sometimes sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without cranberry sauce to accompany the turkey. But cranberries can be enjoyed year around, in your cooking or as a sauce, jelly or juice. As the landscape of New England in the States takes on the hues of autumn, with rich gold, burnt sienna and terracotta, acres of dazzling scarlet appear. That essential part of Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations – the cranberry – is ready for harvest. Cranberries are one of only three fruits native to North America (the other two are the blueberry and Concord grape), though they also grow wild in the UK, as well as other parts of Europe. And long before the first Pilgrim Fathers arrived in 1620, the American Indians had many uses for the red bitter berry growing among the boggy marshes.
Almond toffee meringues are delicious dessert quite good for all seasons (the choice of fruit may vary). Preparation time is only 35 minutes and with 25 minutes of cooking time you can have a fantastic pudding in an hour. The process of making toffee requires the boiling of ingredients until the mix is stiff enough to be pulled into a shape which holds and has a glossy surface. Different mixes, processes, and most importantly, temperatures, will result in different textures and hardnesses, from soft and often sticky to a hard, brittle material. A brown color, and smoky taste, is imparted to the toffee by the caramelization of the sugars.