I am really into Scandinavian culture and this is how I discovered that on Christmas Eve in Sweden, watching Disney cartoons is as much a part of the Christmas celebration as the Christmas tree, the presents, the tomten (Christmas elves) and the ham. This is something that, like the Lucia tradition, seems to be uniquely Swedish but let me tell you something. I grew up on Disney cartoons at a time when there was no internet, no skype, no you tube (hey! I am not that old!!!). I probably watched the Christmas special “From all of us to all of you” several times when I was little because when I re-watched it on you tube, out of curiosity on Christmas Day (I remembered too late, of course) I found I remembered most of the clips. When I was very little, the big day out for me would be to go to the cinema and watch a Disney film. So much was I into Disney that I firmly believed that all the stories like Cinderella, Snow white, Sleeping Beauty, even Alice in Wonderland were his own, that he had not only animated them but also written them and was very crossed (and disappointed) when I discovered otherwise. This took none of the charm off the fairy tales anyway and for me, the Disney weekly show (shown on Sunday evenings at around 20.00hs in Argentina) was my big treat and a wonderful way of finishing my weekend before I had to face another day at school. I also remember it was the no-cook day so instead of a proper dinner I would have all the things I couldn’t normally have during the week: cold cuts, variety of cheeses but my favourite were, of course, junk food such as crisps, coke and other snacks. So yes, I guess I can empathise with the Swedes and their strong willingness to watch this cartoon every Christmas Eve, all the generations sitting together for it doesn’t matter if you’ve watched the same show a million times, that’s precisely the point as I believe is the point of having the same Christmas turkey with exactly the same trimmings year after year. It is a sign of reassurance, a sign that no matter what the future brings some things will not change. And that, I think, is a beautiful thing.
Spaghetti col polpettini
This is one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve ever made… or eaten. I believe that Lady is very lucky to have such a gentleman with her who rolls the last tasty morsel for her with the tip of his snout.
For the polpettini
500g beef mince (you can use 50% beef and 50% pork if you wish)
Milk, as needed
2 or 3 slices white bread
Chopped garlic, to taste
Fresh, chopped parsley, to taste
Flour, as needed
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 red hot chilli pepper (pepperoncino), deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slug of white wine
For the pasta:
100g spaghetti per person
Tomato sauce (use the recipe you like best)
Parmesan cheese, to taste
Soak the bread in the milk and leave for a few seconds. Squeeze it a little to get rid of excess milk.
Mix the mince, the soaked milk, parsley, garlic and egg. If you like them spicy, add the pepperoncino at this point. Or you can add it to your tomato sauce if you prefer.
With wet hands, form meatballs the size of a golf ball.
Roll in flour and place on a tray. You can also do this in a cup if it makes things easier for you. Just place a little bit of flour in a cup, add the meatball and shake the cup until the meatball is covered in flour. This will also keep the meatball with the minimum amount of flour.
Place the tray in the fridge for the meatballs to firm up until ready to cook them.
Meanwhile make your tomato sauce. When it’s almost ready, cook your pasta.
In a separate pan, boil a good amount of water. It will always depend on the amount of pasta you’re cooking but you want the pasta to float freely, not get stuck. You can add a slug of oil to the water (this is a bone of contention, if you excuse the pun, as some chefs say there’s no point in adding the oil to the water when the pasta is cooking as it won’t prevent it from sticking. Gordon does it, so I follow his example). The really important bit (and here everyone agrees) is to salt the pasta water otherwise the resulting spaghetti will be bland and horrible. Bring the water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Cook it until al dente.
In a big pan heat a little bit of oil and fry the meatballs. It does not matter much if they are cold for they will finish cooking slowly in the tomato sauce. You don’t want to cook them here, just give them a bit of colour and make them more interesting as you don’t want to just boil them in the sauce. Once they begin to colour, cover the pan with a lid and leave for 1 minute.
Drizzle with the white wine but don’t touch the meatballs. Leave it for a few minutes until the wine evaporates. Add them to the tomato sauce and cover the pan. Leave the sauce until it finishes cooking.
Drain the pasta but reserve a little bit of the pasta cooking water. Put it in a pan and add the tomato sauce. Heat it up with the remaining pasta water shaking the pan if you know how to!
Place it on a serving dish and finish off with a good amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
The spaghetti and meatballs sequence, when Lady and Tramp accidentally kiss over sharing a strand of spaghetti is considered an iconic scene in American film.
Film: ‘Lady and the Tramp’ (1955) produced by Walt Disney