Bring a Florentine elegance to the festive holiday season
Florence, Italy — This Christmas the Villoresi de Loche family will celebrate the holiday at Villa Villoresi, their medieval mansion in the olive-colored hills of Florence. 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.
Below, in the cellar, hang homemade prosciuttos and salamis, great rounds of Parmesan cheese, and terra-cotta urns full of oil made from the first pressing of olives from the trees that surround the estate.
''This olive oil, delicate and fragrant, forms the basis of our Tuscan cuisine,'' explained Cristina, dipping a ladle into the ancient, well-soaked urn. ''We love it.''
And how delicious it is, used either as a base for cooking or simply as a sauce in which to dip fresh raw vegetables, such as the delicious Florentine finocchi, which Americans call fennel.
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 and olives from the estate.
There is always 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, ravioli-like 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 company table.
The veal stuffing is a delicious alternative to the traditional American chestnut, while the crostini is a useful appetizer for guests who drop in at this time of year. 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 11/2 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 the untoasted side. Pop into a hot, 375 degree F. oven briefly and serve hot. They may be prepared beforehand, and heated just before serving. Veal Stuffing for Roast Poultry 1 pound shoulder of veal, finely minced (mince twice, if possible) 2 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 saucpan 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.