Ahhh, doesn’t that spread look beautiful?
“Huh-Christmas eve?!” you protest, “But it’s the middle of January for cryin’ out loud!” OK, OK, I know…but you try typing with one hand, a baby on your breast, and a jealous 6-year-old commanding your attention when the baby is not! And anyway, couldn’t we use a bit of Christmas to perk up the post-holiday doldrums? As John has mentioned, my family does the Christmas Eve dinner with the “7 fishes” (usually more), always has.
The real centerpiece, what the Altamuro/Fusco contingent has looked forward to every year, was not the fish (they ran a fish store, and were eating fish 24/7 for the love of God!), but the fritle. No, not a fritter. A fritle (“FREE-TUL” :trill your ‘r’). Don’t ask me if that’s the correct spelling, your guess is as good as mine; it originated with my illiterate great-grandparents somewhere in Molfetta, Italy (a once-tiny town near Bari, in Apulglia). Despite having been carried over here and “Italian-Americanized”, the tradition of a Molfettese stuffed-and-fried dough pocket (call it a “Hot Pocket” and I will hurt you, as John found out once, and ONLY ONCE) lives on here in the wilds of Southern New Jersey.
John and I took a few pictures in between rolling dough and and tending to our new bundle of joy, so we have a belated photojournal of the Christmas Eve elves working away in the “summer kitchen” (i.e. the souped-up former garage) at my mother’s house. My mom is the one in the fancy apron and John’s sister (an honorary “Mouffie” for the night) is the one on the left:
Back when my grandmother made them and placed them on a clean sheet on the bed to rest before frying in her Hoboken apartment, she called them “Baby Jesus pillows” (you know: for his head, in the manger). Here are some of the “raw” ones, shown here on my Mom’s dryer:
So, what are they stuffed with? The “traditional” ones contain either a mixture of egg and mozzarella cheese or onions sauteed with bit of tomato paste until they caramelize; some of the onion have whole anchovies added before they are sealed (only my Dad, nephew, and John’s sister likes them-oof!). Then there are the fairly new “pizza style” my grandma invented for her finicky grand kids: a little red “gravy” is spooned on before adding some mozzarella cheese). After rolling out the dough, stuffing, sealing, and “labeling” each with a colored toothpick to track their contents, we fry those suckers to golden, brown and delicious! Here are the final results:
Remember the pepperoni bread recipe I posted before Thanksgiving? Well, here are a few photos of my sister preparing it as one of our “side-dishes” that night:
Other items served that night were spaghetti with garlic and olive oil; lots of shrimp, either fried (beer batter-, Italian breadcrumb- , or “Cajun”-style) or boiled “cocktail” style; salmon baked with butter; fillet pan-crusted with pistachios, fried calamari, clams simmered in beer and garlic…the list goes on…