Bring a Florentine elegance to the Christmas table

This Christmas the Villoresi de Loche family will celebrate Christmas at Villa Villoresi, its medieval mansion in the olive-colored hills of Florence, much the same way it has been celebrated for 13 generations.

A few fortunate guests will be joining the celebrations at the traditional family service in the villa's chapel and at the Christmas dinner which everyone shares, since the mansion is now run as a first-class hotel.

The gracious Contessa Villoresi personally greets most visitors to the villa, which dates back to the 12th century. Her vivacious daughter, Cristina, manages the estate.

One enters the villa through a long, vaulted galleria lined with gold brocade chaise longues and china vases filled with roses and gladioli. Behind the vases of flowers are paintings of vases full of flowers. giving a curious and attractive sense of continuity through the ages.

Doors with windows and doorways without doors lead effortlessly through rooms with original frescoes, antique Tuscan furniture and paintings and portraits of the Villoresi families. The dining room is also lined with imposing gold-framed portraits of members of the powerful Medici family.

Guests at the Villa Villoresi eat well, a mixture of innovative and also simpler "Tuscan" home cooking. Cristina herself takes great pride in overseeing the kitchen, and also in trying out new dishes herself, such as pheasant cooked in vine leaves, or the very simple and fragrant appetizer of fried sage.

Christmas dinner, however, is always traditional. One begins first with antipasti, consisting of prosciutto, which is raw, dried ham sliced very thinly; salami; olives from the estate; and crostini; which are typical Tuscan appetizers consisting of small rounds of thin, baked bread upon which is spread meat or liver paste, tomato sauce, or small, piquant sausages.

The favorite holiday pasta, served next, is always Tortellini in Brodo, a stuffed, raviolilike pasta served in a clear, homemade chicken broth.

Boiled cappone (capon), cotechino (a type of boiling salami), and roast turkey stuffed with veal follow. The meal is rounded off with cheese, fruit, and the ever-present italian Christmas cake called pannetone, a large, breadlike cake filled with candied fruit and raisins.

Here are a few of Cristina's own recipes, which should bring the elegance of Florence to any Christmas table. TThe veal stuffing is a delicious alternative to the traditional American chestnut, while the crostini and fried sage are both useful appetizers for guests who drop in at this time of year.

But be warned -- the fried sage leaves are simple to prepare but time consuming, as Cristina herself discovered when she recently served this dish to 400 guests during the Biennale Enogastronomica, a culinary festival celebrating Tuscan food. Her tip -- pick large leaves. Crostini di Regatini 1 small onion, finely chopped 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 chicken liver, cleaned and coarsely chopped Laurel leaves 1 1/2 tablespoons capers 1 or 2 anchovy fillets Salt and pepper Butter, if necessary 20 "crostini" -- small, thin rounds of bread

Laurel leaves grow throughout Tuscany. Sage is also a characteristic herb, and makes a good substitute.

Brown onion in butter and oil. Add chopped liver and a laurel leaf or two, and fry gently until the liver is cooked, about 15 minutes. REmove from heat. Remove laurel leaves, but if using sage, these can be left in. Add capers and chopped anchovy fillet.

Mix in blender or food processor, or make into a paste with the back of a wooden spoon. Add more butter, if necessary, to make the paste creamy.

Toast "crostini" lightly on one side, then spread paste onto untoasted side. Pop into a hot, 375-degree f. oven briefly and serve hot: They may be prepared beforehand, and heated just before serving. 1 pound shoulder of veal, finely minced (mince twice, if possible) %(c) tablespoons butter 6 slices crustless white bread, soaked in milk and squeezed dry 1 teaspoon fresh, or 1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese 1/4 pound roughly chopped ham 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 egg Salt and pepper Pinch of nutmeg

Melt butter in a saucepan and gently fry minced veal until almost cooked. Remove from heat and drain off excess fat.

Combine veal with bread, rosemary, Parmesan cheese, chopped ham, and olive oil. Bind with egg. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. STuff the mixture into the turkey cavity and roast. Salvia Fritta Alla Viloresi Fresh sage leaves Flour Water Oil for frying

Combine flour with enough water to make a batter which is just "sticky." The amount of batter you make depends on how much sage you have.

Spread a thin layer of anchovy paste on half the sage leaves. Dip the rest of the leaves in the batter, then sandwich them together with the leaves that have the anchovy paste. Dip this sage sandwich into the batter again and place it on an oiled plate. Prepare all leaves in this manner.

Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a skillet. Fry sage quickly in hot oil, then drain on absorbent paper. Serve immediately.

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