The Christmas triad: capon, lamb and capitone – Italian Cuisine

The Christmas triad: capon, lamb and capitone

Three symbols of traditional cuisine. Three dishes that express regional diversity on the festive table. History, typical recipes and visions of three great chefs who love them

For those who consider tradition an indisputable value, there are foods that cannot be missing on special occasions. Three of these are protagonists on the Christmas tables – if the hosts intend to follow the immortal rules – because they deeply represent the cultural identity of the place of origin, have an important history and are particularly enjoyable. We are talking about the capon, oflamb he was born in capitone: simplifying they are the North, the Center and the South of the compass of taste, with their respective capitals Milan, Rome and Naples.

I 'quater capun'

Let's start from capon, a farmyard animal widespread in northern Italy and part of central Italy: the tradition on the Christmas table dates back to the Middle Ages, when the capon broth was consumed during the Christmas holidays, also linked to the ritual celebrations of the winter solstice. In Milan, in particular, raising 'quater capun' (four capons) in view of Christmas represented a deeply rooted tradition, witnessed even in the pages of Betrothed of Alessandro Manzoni. There must have been four in all: one for Sant'Ambrogio, one for Christmas, one for New Year's and one for Epiphany. The classic recipe of Stuffed capon, involves the use of minced veal, or sausage, stale bread and milk, thus creating a mixture that is flavored with pepper, nutmeg, rosemary, garlic, sage and parsley, and then inserted into the capon for the filling. Once stuffed, the capon is closed using needle and thread. For a good omen, tradition also has it that the capon is served on the table garnished with pomegranate grains, one of the oldest symbols wishing fertility and well-being.

Eugenio Boer's broth

"The good capon, in particular that of Morozzo which is a Slow Food Presidium, has a well-defined flavor and offers a superb broth", explains chef Eugenio Boer, at the helm of the Milanese restaurant that bears his name. «For those who prepare it stuffed, I recommend not overcooking it because it is white meat. The filling should include the entrails of the capon, bread softened in milk and odors. With the bones you can make a sauce to accompany it . Boer interpreted the capon making it a signature dish: an ingenious miscellany of cappelletti in broth (of capon, of course), which combines the ideal preparations for animal meat within the pasta. There are four fillings: the breast at low temperature, the thigh with the skin dried in cooking oil, the wings stewed with mushrooms and the Tuscan giblets with red wine, capers and anchovies.

From baculum to lamb

In Rome, abbacchio is a culinary synonym for Christmas (but it is also prepared for Easter). This term – which comes from the Latin baculum, or the stick to which the young sheep were tied – indicates the still young butchered lamb, and a particularly tender and tasty type of meat. The more elaborate version, on the other hand, involves cooking the floured and browned pieces of leg in a pan, to which is added chopped sage and garlic and then wine mixed with vinegar. Then, the meat is covered with boiling water and cooked in the oven. To prepare lamb scottadito, served with potatoes, the lamb chops are grilled, anointed with lard and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Fried is very good

Then it exists a fried version of the lamb chops, which are first breaded in breadcrumbs and egg, to then be fried in oil. "Because lamb, even good, remains democratic and inexpensive food. The secret is to clean them well, beat them lightly, bread them with egg and breadcrumbs, cook them in a little extra virgin olive oil, browning and not frying ", advises Riccardo Di Giacinto. The chef-patron of All’Oro Restaurant is in love with lamb, interpreted in a hundred recipes as one – very good – where he prepares it "al verde", that is, with green sauce, bread with herbs, zucchini in scapece and green tea sauce

The capitone is also in the Smorfia

In the Christmas Eve dinner in Naples – and in many areas of the South – the protagonist is the capitone (from Latin caput, head) or the female eel, represented by the number 32 in the famous Neapolitan grimace: it is characterized by a head and body size greater than that of the male eel, and it is possible to find it in both fresh and salt waters, since it usually goes up rivers. The origin of this dish dates back to ancient times. Eating the capitone – whose appearance closely resembles that of the snake, symbol of Evil – coincides in a symbolic act of good omen that associates the elimination from Evil with the birth of Christ. According to tradition, the capitone must be purchased alive on December 23rd, a period in which the city's fishmongers offer the spectacle of these fishes splashing around in large blue tanks. It can then be cooked the following day, maintaining its freshness until the last.

The passion of Gennarino Esposito

In the Neapolitan culinary tradition, the capitone has a versatile role. It can accompany the cod in the fried part or play the main role after the first courses. "Sliced ​​and roasted, it is always good," says the chef Gennaro Esposito. "The extra touch is given by the laurel. The leftover capitone can be used in the famous reinforcement salad, which is one of the classics of Neapolitan cuisine . Sure, the capitone is essentially eaten fried. But preparing it is less simple than you think. "It is important that the pieces of eel, thoroughly cleaned and bloodless, are kept at room temperature one hour before frying. Which must be very careful, made slowly and in abundant extra virgin olive oil, otherwise the crunchiness remains a dream concludes the chef of the Torre del Saracino two-star restaurant in Vico Equense. In case it advances, then, it is possible to transform it into capitone alla scapece. It is a system used by Neapolitan cuisine to preserve fish, but also vegetables, after frying. The dish is made by marinating the capitone in extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, garlic and mint. Yummy even so.

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