Seeing as we are still in the 12 days of Christmas, I am going to extol the virtues of the Genovese Christmas culinary tradition.
Recently, on a lovely evening at that Ligurian culinary mecca, Ristorante Manuelina in Recco, we were treated to the delights of the local gastronomy…
Could a meal at Manuelina’s start with anything other than focaccia col formaggio?
But what really stole the show was the Cappon Magro, where there is no capon at all!
In fact, the mysterious name (‘Lean Capon’) probably alludes to the fact that on Christmas Eve, no meat was eaten, like at Lent (or the Italian-American Christmas treat, La festa dei sette pesci where many different fish and seafood based dishes are served on Christmas Eve). The real capon or other meats could be eaten on Christmas day.
A complicated dish to prepare, almost no one makes Cappon Magro at home any more. It is a layering of fish and vegetables with green sauce (no, it’s not pesto!) in an elaborate mound that is often crowned by a prawn. My plate that night was adorned with an oyster as well — not something that came from the Tigullian Sea, for sure, but a lovely Christmas addition. Beets, carrots, celery, boiled potatoes, maybe a green bean or two, perhaps a boiled egg, some cauliflower, a fillet of white fish (branzino does just fine), maybe some mosciame (a kind of dried tuna, it is dark red and served in thin slices, almost like prosciutto of tuna!) There are also the hard sailor’s biscuits (gallette del marinaio) soaked in vinegar and some olive oil that form the base of the pyramid.
My dining companion, not a fish eater, opted for the equally famous Christmas food: cima.
Cima is a veal roast where the colorful stuffing is the primary ingredient: eggs, pinoli nuts, peas, carrots, cheese, spices… In the old days, there were sweetbreads too. It’s another one of those old-time dishes where the meat component is minimal, thus it was a food for poor people or for those ‘lean times.’ Today it is a delicacy that almost no one prepares at home anymore. Here it is accompanied by fried artichokes (in Genovese dialect: articiocca!), another taste treat of the season.
Knowing we can rely on Manuelina to serve up authentic and delectable versions of these oldies but goodies would put a Christmas smile on anyone’s face.