From pasta and pork to delicious dolci, Michael Bonacini shares his favourite recipes for the festive season.
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11 Dec 2019 - 11:20 AM  UPDATED 11 Dec 2019 - 1:30 PM

"Cucina Italiano e buonissimo," says chef Michael Bonacini, and who'd argue with that - especially when the menu features pasta stuffed with potato, mint and cheese, braised veal with polenta and mushrooms, a molten chocolate cake and espresso zabaglione with buttered panetone....

"Christmas in Italy is about the food that gets prepared, family and friends that come over and about all the craziness that ensues," says the Italian-Welsh chef and television host in Bonacini's Italian Christmas, one of two special one-hour shows where he shares his favourite festive recipes.

Whether you'd like to dive right in, cook up a storm and create your own festive table laden with his Italian dishes, or you're looking for one final dish to round out your menu, Bonacini has you covered:

Antipasto

Salt cod mousse on polenta crostini (crostini di polenta con baccalà mantecato)

Transform baccala - salted cod - into a light, airy flavorful mousse served on top of polenta crostini.  

Primo

Pasta stuffed with potato mint and cheese (culurgiones)

Put a little bit of sardinia on your table with these stuffed pastas. The lovely soft, supple pasta dough is easy to make, and the filling is a great combination of cheese and potato. 

Potato ricotta gnocchi with braised greens (gnocchi di patate e ricotta con verdure brasate)

These light gnocchi are served with nutty browned butter and parmesan. With the greens, it's big, rich and flavourful. "Once you’ve had gnocchi like this, there’s no other way to have them," Bonacini says. 

 

Secondo

Sweet tender swordfish  (dolce tenero pesce spade)

This brings together lovely seared fish steaks, beautiful sweet pomodorini, cherry tomatoes, that become super juicy and they burst in your mouth, a little heat from chillies, capers for that briny salty little hit, and these gorgeous earthy olives. 

Tomato-braised veal roulade (involtini di vitello brasati al Pomodoro)

Salt, pepper, toasted fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, citrus zest, sage and thyme are spread on the veal before rolling, creating a roast that's packed full of flavour

 

Pork braised in milk (maiale al latte)

Hailing from Emilio Romagna, this pork dish is wondferully tender because of the long slow cooking. Serve with roasted carrots, apples and chestnuts (carote, mele e castagne al forno).

 

Contorno

Fennel and blood orange salad (insalata di finicchi e arance rosse)

"When Sicilians prepare a Christmas feast, it more often that not will include a fennel and orange salad. That cool crunchy licorice flavor from the fennel and the sweet juice of those blood oranges makes this a perfect side dish for a festive meal," Michael Bonacini says of this refreshing and easy-to-make side. 

Polenta gratin with sautéed wild mushrooms (polenta con funghi selvatici)

Melty cheese and smooth polenta combine beautifully with the earthy mushrooms in this festive side (and you can make part of it ahead, too).

Dolce

Espresso zabaglione with buttered panettone (zabaione al caffe con panettone)

"Zabaglione is traditionally made with sweet or fortified wine, but I’m going for a little espresso, because I think that coffee hit and the panettone work so well together.," Bonacini says of this super easy way to turn a panettone into a delicious dolci. You can use bought panettone or make his apricot and pistachio panettone

Holiday-spiced molten chocolate cake (torta al cioccolato fuso speziato a festa)

Everyone loves cutting into one of these chocolate puddings and watching the molten chocolate ooze out. Serve with figs poached in honey, wine, cinnamon and cloves to take it next-level. 

See the Michael Bonacini Christmas specials Friday December 13 and Friday December 20, 4.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33. 

More festive italian recipes
Panettone ice cream (gelato al panettone)

Not made with actual panettone, but the flavours panettone is known and loved for: orange, sultanas, dates, vanilla and Marsala.

Chocolate-orange panforte

Hailing from Siena in the Tuscan region of Italy, panforte (‘strong bread’ when translated to English) is a delectable combination of dried fruits, nuts, spices, honey and, if you are lucky, chocolate. It is believed to date back to the 13th Century and was originally a form of tax paid to a local monastery. Like many traditional recipes, there are many variations with each often being a well-guarded family recipe – however I will share this one with you!

Honey, almond and ginger semifreddo with a hint of thyme (semifreddo di mandorla e miele, con zenzero e timo)

This semifreddo is sublime. You must make it and you must try it. Tonight. Each bite – honeyed and sweet – reminds me of a honeycomb ice-cream my mother used to make when I was a child. When we lived in a sleepy town in Australia, a town called Broome. My recipe is cold like ice-cream, but softer in texture, like melted ice-cream. The salted almonds give it an irresistible crunch and the stem ginger a peppery kick. Part of what I love most about this recipe is that you don’t need an ice-cream machine.

Pear mostarda

A piquant sweet-and-spicy condiment that is the perfect match for buttery sheep’s milk cheeses like pecorino. For a sweeter flavour, try adding some rehydrated dried figs or a combination of dried cherries and apricots.

Pickled cherries with sweet spices

I always try to eke them out so they last the whole year, saving them for special occasions. This is silly I know because I do actually make them to use.