I am a big fan of edible Christmas gifts. For two reasons. Firstly, it substitutes a Bourke-St-Mall-induced panic attack for a relaxed morning of baking in the comforts of my kitchen. It is also an affordable way to spread the Christmas cheer a little further without deferring to a token bottle of wine or Lindt balls (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!)
This year, I wanted to preserve the spirit of the season without contributing that additional panettone that bursts the pantry in an avalanche of pandoro, that Christmas pudding that makes you feel like you could sweat fruit mince, or the shortbread that adds to the fossilised mound that you didn’t get through last Christmas.
The pasta is so easy to whip up and requires very few ingredients. Because the subtle flavours of the spinach and beetroot are built into the pasta, it is halfway to a dashing meal before a pot of water has been boiled. Simply tossed though butter or olive oil and garlic, and dusted with Parmesan, it is certain to satiate the whirlwind of Christmas visitors over the coming weeks.
From the sweet corner, these crostoli are a joy. Crisp ribbons of fried pastry with hints of brandy and lemon zest, twisted into shapes like angels’ wings and liberally dusted in icing sugar. They are a specialty of the Veneto region in the North of Italy, but are eaten all over the country. They certainly always appear at our family Christmas celebrations alongside the coffee served to resurrect us from a food-induced coma. So light, crisp and moreish, they’ll be snapped up before the espresso steam dissipates. They are also an elegant companion to a sweet wine.
- For the green pasta – blanch 220g of spinach. Squeeze out all the excess water by pressing the spinach against a sieve or colander. Puree in a blender and mix with 2 eggs.
- For the red pasta – boil, or roast in foil at about 180 degrees Celsius, one large beetroot until very soft. Peel and puree in a blender with 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and mix with 2 eggs.
- Place 1 & 3/4 cups of flour in two bowls. Add each pasta mixture to each of the bowls.
- Combine each mixture with your hands, and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if necessary.
- Shape each dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for half an hour at room temperature.
- On a well floured surface, roll out the dough as thinly as possible, and cut into long strips of pasta. Dust with flour to prevent sticking.
- To cook the pasta, add it to a pot of salted boiling water and cook until it rises to the surface.
Crostoli (makes about 50)
You will need:
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons of softened butter
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons of brandy or cognac
- canola oil (or vegetable oil) for deep-frying
- Plenty of icing sugar, to serve
- Sift the flours and sugar into a bowl.
- Add the egg, milk, lemon zest, brandy and butter. Stir with a wooden spoon until the ingredients come together, then work into a dough with your hands. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5 minutes, until smooth and silky.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it is about 2mm thick. Cut length ways into strips about 4cm wide, and then horizontally to form rectangles about 6 cm long.
- Make a slit with a knife down the length of each rectangle. Thread the top of the rectangle through the slit once or twice.
- Heat oil (about 5cm deep) in a fry pan or pot until very hot. Fry the crostoli until golden brown all over.
- Remove crostoli with tongs and place on a wire rack (with a tray underneath to catch the oil).
- Dust very generously with icing sugar.