An Italian Christmas Feast On A Shoestring

generic chef shoestring christmas holiday plate dinner
Tired of turkey? This Christmas, think Italian! Chef Michael White, the executive chef at New York's Alto and L'Impero restaurants, visited The Saturday Early Show to cook up an Italian holiday feast on a shoestring. Buon Natale!

On the menu are winter chard and tiny meatball soup, rosemary roasted leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, broccoli rabe with garlic, and an eggnog panna cotta with pears and biscotti for dessert.

Zuppa di Bietole e Polpette

2 pound ground pork
2 eggs
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive for sautéing and for the toasted bread cubes
1 gallon rich chicken stock
2 bunches Swiss chard cleaned and chopped
1 cup grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano for soup
1 pound rustic bread, crusts removed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes and toasted with ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, combine ground meat, eggs, bread crumbs, grated cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Roll meatballs into 1-inch balls. Heat a small amount oil in a 12-inch nonstick pan over medium heat and brown the balls, working in batches.

In a large saucepot, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add the Swiss chard and cook 10 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer 10 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked through.

Divide toasted bread cubes among 8 warmed soup bowls, then ladle soup over the toasted bread. Dust the soups with the grated cheese serve, garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if desired.

For this pairing, Alto's wine director Eric Zillier recommends a light, crisp un-oaked wine from wine regions with a relatively cool climate, including Northern Italy, Northern France, Austria, California's Russian River.

Rosemary Roasted Leg of American Lamb

1 leg bone-in (about 6 pounds) American Lamb
Juice of 2 lemons
8 cloves garlic, minced
5 T chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Salt & coarsely ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped fresh herbs, garlic (combination of rosemary, sage and parsley)
2 cups diced onions
2 smashed cloves of garlic
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup red wine

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Using your hands, evenly rub the leg of lamb all over with the lemon juice, garlic, rosemary and olive oil over the surface of the meat.

Season the meat with the salt and pepper and place the lamb in a roasting pan. Place the lamb in the oven and roast for 25 minutes at 400° F. Reduce the oven temperature to 325° F and continue to cook for about 1¼ hour longer for medium-rare, or until a meat thermometer registers 135°F to 140° F in the thickest part of the leg. Remove lamb from pan and tent with foil; allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Place the roasting pan over stove burner. Add the herbs, onions and garlic to pan, and stir to combine with pan drippings. Add chicken stock and wine to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to release any good bits. Reduce over high heat until sauce consistency. Strain before serving. Slice lamb and serve with sauce drizzled over the top with potatoes and broccoli rabe.

Because this dish will go great with just about any red wine, Eric Zillier recommends that you choose a red to match your preference. For example, if you like big, fuller-bodied wines, choose your favorite California Cab, Super Tuscan or a Brunello. If you prefer more medium-bodied wines, choose a Rosso di Montalcino, Chianti, Southern Rhone (Grenache-based), Northern Rhone (Syrah-based), or an earthy California Syrah.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

3 pounds Idaho potatoes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (5 cloves)
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Cut the potatoes into quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and spread out into 1 layer; roast in the oven for 1 hour, or until browned. Stir with a spoon during cooking to ensure even browning. Remove the potatoes from the oven, season to taste, and serve.

Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Hot Pepper

3 lbs. broccoli rabe (rapini), trimmed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 t red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

In batches, cook the broccoli rabe in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer the broccoli rabe to a large bowl of ice water to cool. Reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Strain the cooled broccoli rabe and set aside.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium. Add the broccoli rabe and toss, cook until the broccoli rabe is heated through and the stems are tender, about 6 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Eggnog Panna Cotta with Pears

1.5 quarts of eggnog
½ cup hot water
3 packets of unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup dark rum
Grating of nutmeg to taste

Warm eggnog over low heat; in a separate bowl, add the gelatin and hot water together, mix until dissolved and whisk in to the eggnog. Mix completely and pour into 4-oz molds. Chill for at least 3 hours or until set.

For the Pears
1/2cup light brown sugar
4 Bosc pears, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
5 T unsalted butter

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a small pan over medium heat. Add the pears and spices and simmer for about 10 minutes or until pears are tender. Remove from heat.

When panna cotta is set, remove from refrigerator. Dip the bottoms of the ramekins into a bowl of warm water to loosen. Turn the panna cotta over and onto serving plates add warm spiced pears along the side with a little of the pear liquid.

Zillier recommends a Moscato d'asti, or homemade eggnog with this dessert.