Make Christmas Eve fare festive for everyone

Add festive flourishes to make a special meal on the night before the big holiday to start the season right

    Christmas Eve dinner doesn’t always get the same attention as dinner on the big day, but it should.
    After all, this is the night you hang the stockings and wait for a visit from Santa. It’s a time of anticipation and preparation, not just for little ones waiting to see what will be left under the tree but for the adults around them too.
    That can make for a rushed evening, but a special dinner doesn’t always mean a time-consuming meal.
    You can spend as much or as little time preparing the meal as desired — try a sheet-pan meal or one prepared in the slow cooker, but take a few minutes to add a few touches, such as garnishes, that will make it special.
    If you’re making a steak or fish, top it with a compound butter, made by mashing softened butter with fresh minced herbs.
    If you’re making a pasta dish, sprinkle it with a few fresh herbs or serve it with some freshly made garlic bread.
    Instead of serving pasta with Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top, make a creamy sauce.
    Or try a variation of a favorite food or category of food. Instead of Chinese favorites, make a Thai dish. Try a gourmet pizza instead of pasta. If you have kids, try a tasty schnitzel instead of chicken nuggets or a gourmet stuffed macaroni and cheese instead of the familiar boxed mac and cheese youngsters love.
    Whatever you do, make it easy on yourself. After all, the magic is in the air — and on the tree. Have fun, and enjoy the evening.
    Following are a few ideas for Christmas Eve fare from

Easy One-Pan Baked Ziti

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
1 pound ground Italian sausage
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cups water
12 ounces ziti pasta
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/4 cups fresh mozzarella, finely diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

    Heat a 12-inch oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and sauté four to five minutes, until golden and crisp.
    Add onion and sauté four to five minutes, until translucent. Crumble sausage into the pan and sauté four to five minutes, until fully cooked. Stir in garlic and cook one minute, until fragrant.
    Add tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Add water and bring to a steady simmer, then stir in pasta, making sure it’s fully submerged. Simmer 10 to 11 minutes, until pasta is al dente and the sauce has thickened.
    Stir Parmesan into the mixture, remove from the heat and sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the surface. Transfer pan to a 400-degree oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.
    Remove from the oven and let cool five to 10 minutes. Garnish with basil and parsley and serve immediately.
    Makes six servings.

One-Pan Roasted Salmon With Potatoes and Romaine

1 pound baby Yukon Gold potatoes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 6-ounce salmon fillets
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 hearts romaine lettuce

    In a medium bowl, toss potatoes with two tablespoons olive oil, then arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly golden and fork-tender.
    Cut romaine hearts in half and rub with two tablespoons olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
    Using a pastry brush, brush salmon fillets with melted butter. Season each fillet with paprika, salt and pepper.
    Arrange romaine hearts and salmon on the baking sheet with the potatoes. Continue roasting five to seven minutes, until lettuce is tender and the fish is cooked through.         Makes four servings.

Pasta Florentine With Grilled Chicken

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound bucatini or other long pasta
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 5-ounce bag baby spinach

    In a small bowl, whisk mustard with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Brush chicken on both sides with this mixture, then season with salt and pepper.
    Grill chicken over high heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until well charred and cooked through, turning as needed. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice very thinly.
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain well.
    In a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté one minute, until fragrant.
    Add wine to the pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by half. Stir in heavy cream and cheese and season with salt and pepper.
    Add pasta to the pan and toss well to coat with sauce. Add chicken and spinach and toss until the spinach is slightly wilted. Serve immediately.
    Makes four servings.


Swordfish With Crushed Olives and Oregano

2 cups Castelvetrano olives, pitted and crushed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh oregano or marjoram
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 swordfish steaks, 8 to 10 ounces each, 1 to 1-1/4-inches thick
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, tender leaves and stems
2 lemons, halved, for serving

    In a medium bowl, combine olives, vinegar, half the oregano leaves and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
    Season swordfish with salt and pepper. Heat remaining olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, add swordfish steaks, making sure there is a little space between them. Cook five to seven minutes, until steaks are a deep golden brown on one side. Using a spatula, flip steaks and cook four to six minutes, until they are equally golden brown on the other side.
    Transfer fish to a large serving platter or baking dish. Add garlic to the skillet and cook one to two minutes, until just softened. Add olive mixture and remove from the heat.
    Spoon some of the olive mixture over the swordfish and let it sit a few minutes. Scatter parsley and remaining oregano over the fish  and serve with any extra olive mixture and the lemon halves.
    Makes six servings.


Strip Steak With Harissa Butter and Parsley Salad

For steak:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 teaspoons harissa paste
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Kosher salt
2 10 to 12-ounce boneless sirloin or New York strip steaks, 1 to 1-1/2-inches thick
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For salad:
2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

    In a small bowl, stir butter, harissa, lemon zest and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Season steaks generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add steaks and cook four to six minutes per side, turning once, for medium-rare meat. Transfer to a cutting board and rest five minutes.
    In a bowl, toss together parsley, scallions, lemon juice and oil. Season to taste with salt.
    To serve, slice steaks and arrange on plates. Top with butter. Serve with parsley salad alongside.
    Makes four servings.


Caramelized Mushroom Pasta With Crispy Prosciutto

Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 thin prosciutto slices
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
12 ounces campanelle or other short pasta
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine
Freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, for serving

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
    Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Place two prosciutto slices in the pan in a single layer and cook about three minutes, until they curl and are lightly browned underneath. Flip prosciutto and cook three minutes, until browned on the other side. Transfer prosciutto to a paper towel–lined plate and repeat with the remaining slices.
    Pour one tablespoon olive oil into the pan. Add half the mushrooms in a single layer, cut-side down, and cook undisturbed about five minutes, until browned well on the bottom but not fully cooked. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.
    Add pasta to the boiling water and cook one minute less than the package instructions for al dente.
    Once the mushrooms are all browned, return them to the pan and add the garlic and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook two minutes, stirring once or twice, until the mushrooms are fragrant and just tender. Pour wine into the pan and simmer about one minute, until some but not all the liquid has evaporated, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom. Remove from the heat.
    When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup  pasta water, then drain the pasta. Add pasta and reserved pasta water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook about two minutes, tossing and stirring, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce thickens and coats the pasta. Remove from the heat.
    Break prosciutto into small pieces and stir half into the pasta. Serve garnished with the remaining prosciutto and shaved Parmesan.
    Makes four servings.


Rigatoni With Vodka Sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 4.5-ounce tube double concentrated tomato paste
1-1/2 ounces vodka
2/3 cup heavy cream
12 ounces rigatoni
Fresh basil, for serving
Parmesan cheese, for serving

    In a large high-sided skillet or Dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook six to eight minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook three minutes, until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta seven to nine minutes, until very al dente. Reserve about one cup pasta water before draining the pasta.
    Add tomato paste to the onion-garlic mixture and cook about five minutes, stirring frequently, until it begins to caramelize. Add vodka and cook three minutes,  scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet and cooking off the alcohol. Turn off the heat and stir in the cream, then adjust the seasoning as needed to taste.
    Add drained pasta to the sauce and return to medium-low heat. Add about 1/4 cup pasta water, stirring to coat the pasta and loosen the sauce. Add more pasta water as needed until the sauce is glossy and coating the noodles. Serve garnished with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
    Makes four servings.




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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