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A&E >  Food

A peek at traditions

For many families, no Christmas meal is complete without a certain favorite dish

By Story And Photos The Spokesman-Review

‘Don’t peek,” said Dave McCullough. “You have to resist peeking.”

McCullough is teaching his granddaughter Chloee Lucki, 10, how to make the orange rolls his family serves every Christmas morning. While they waited for the last rise on the orange, walnut and coconut rolls on Saturday, he shared what he’s learned about making them over the years. McCullough supervised and offered advice while Chloee and her friend Hali Johnson zested mandarin oranges, kneaded dough, rolled up the pastries and brushed them with glaze.

Whether born of necessity, part of a family’s heritage, or adopted over the years, there are family recipes that simply have to be on the table or it doesn’t feel like Christmas.

McCullough has made his family’s orange rolls since 1965 (recipe follows). The recipe came from his first wife’s grandmother, who made a version of the rolls on their ranch on the upper Salt River as early as 1900.

“This has been a Christmas tradition for right around 100 years and I have passed it along to my children and grandchildren,” he said. “They freeze and ship really well. In fact, I had a big box of them sent to me in a Christmas care package when I was in Vietnam in ’68. They were great, though I only got two – (there was) an unwritten rule that you share care packages with the other guys in your outfit.”

For Carl Naccarato, owner of Cassano’s Italian Grocery, Christmas Eve means the traditional baccalà, or salt cod. The fish is preserved by drying and salting. Then it is rinsed and reconstituted for two days before it is cooked on the third.

Naccarato, who learned to make the dish from his grandmother, worries that baccalà is a dying tradition. He waves off anyone who wrinkles their nose. “They have no idea what they’re missing.”

He tries to help customers who want help recreating dishes of their youth, or those who want to reclaim their heritage by making a traditional dish such as baccalà (recipe follows). “Unless you experienced it, it’s hard to just take a recipe out of a book,” he said.

Cassano’s is also stocked up with other can’t-miss holiday treats of an Italian household: fruit-filled panettone breads, dense fruit and nut panforte desserts, and the pistachio- and almond-studded nougat called torrone.

Master chef Steve Geving teaches a cooking class full of recipes that are holiday traditions for families and at restaurants he’s worked for over the years. His collection includes a puff pastry-topped seafood bisque, goose confit and a beef and wild mushroom dish with a piped topping of duchess potatoes that he created while he was the executive chef at Maldonado’s in Pasadena, Calif.

But for Geving, the dish that reminds him most of home in Minnesota is a wild mushroom and wild rice soup that he smothers with bread and Gruyere cheese (recipe follows). It bakes until the topping is golden brown. “When it comes out of the oven, it is a visual thing of beauty,” he said.

Geving is a retired master chef, which is the highest level of achievement certified by the American Culinary Federation, and a member of the illustrious Les Toques Blanches Chefs Hall of Fame. He teaches cooking classes at the Blanchard Community Center for $25 each and donates the money to charity. This year, he gave about $2,000 to area food banks and another $700 to Mamas On a Mission, a group that puts together food baskets and toys for families in need. The classes are held once a month from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Reservations are required by calling (208) 437-0426.

The mother and daughter team at The Flying Pig café also have a holiday tradition with Italian roots, but the carbonara they whip up is decidedly faster than baccalà. Erin Rauth said the tradition started with her father’s family.

Now, she and her mother, Marsha Loiacono, make carbonara (recipe follows) and cannoli for more than 15 people on Christmas Eve. The gathering has become so big that they had to buy a serving dish big enough to hold the pasta feast. “We only get it out once year,” she said.

Although they usually plan to make the cannoli shells from scratch, she said they usually end up buying them at Cassano’s Italian Grocery. Loiacono whips the dessert together from memory, Rauth said, and they make sure there’s at least one extra serving.

“We always save one cannoli and leave it out for Santa.”

Grandma’s Orange Rolls

From Dave McCullough, of Susie-David’s Cattle Co., Spokane. McCullough said the kneading tip should be a warning. Don’t over-knead.

1 envelope yeast

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

2 eggs, beaten

6 tablespoons soft butter

2 3/4 cups flour

For the filling:

1 cup sugar

1 cup coconut

2 tablespoons grated orange rind

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

For the glaze:

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate

1/4 cup butter

For the dough: Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water, pour in bowl and add sugar, salt, sour cream, eggs and butter. Mix well. Add flour slowly and mix well, it will form a stiff dough. Place in a warm place, cover and let rise until dough doubles in size (about 2 hours – see note).

For the filling: While the dough is rising, mix filling ingredients (sugar, coconut, orange rind and nuts), cover with plastic and set aside. (Make a little extra to sprinkle on the finished rolls.)

When the dough has doubled in size, turn onto a floured surface and knead 15 times only. Then form two balls of dough. Roll each ball to form a rectangle about 12- by 6-inches. Brush well with melted butter and sprinkle each one with about half the filling mixture. Reserve some of the filling to sprinkle on finished rolls, if desired.

Cut rectangles into 12 wedges and roll each from the wide end (like croissants) and place on cookie sheet with edges touching, but not crowded. Cover and let rise in a warm place 1 to 2 hours again until about double in size.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, watch the rolls and start glaze just before rolls come out. The rolls are done when they are golden brown, but more golden than brown.

For the glaze: Mix all ingredients in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 3 minutes only, then spoon over warm rolls evenly, then sprinkle remaining filling on rolls.

Note: Family members warn that the dough is slow to rise, so don’t panic. You can also warm the oven to 200 degrees and turn off and put the dough or rolls in there covered with a light tea towel. If it gets cool, turn on again, but only for a minute or two.

Yield: 24 orange rolls


From Carl Naccarato, Cassano’s Italian Grocery. This traditional Italian dish is served on Christmas Eve at his house.

6 (5-6 ounce) pieces salt cod

2 bulbs fresh fennel, thinly sliced

1 cup celery, finely chopped

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

Olive oil

Flour, for dredging

White wine, for deglazing

2 (28-ounce) cans whole San Marzano tomatoes with basil

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

Black pepper, to taste

1 pound linguini

Salt cod must be soaked in water for two days before baccalà is prepared. Cut cod into serving-sized pieces, place in a glass baking dish and cover with water. Twice each day, drain water from cod and cover again with fresh water. When the cod is ready, drain and set aside.

Sauté fennel, celery and onion in olive oil until it starts to brown. Remove vegetables from the pan and return it to the burner. Add more olive oil to the pan. Dredge cod in flour and pan fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove fish from the pan and set aside. Deglaze pan with white wine and return sautéed vegetables to the pan. Add tomatoes, fennel seed and black pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes.

Place cod pieces on top of the tomato sauce and cover. Let the flavors infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the dish simmers, prepare linguini according to package directions. Toss with butter or olive oil.

Serve baccalà and sauce on top of the linguini.

Yield: 6 servings

Wild Mushroom, Wild Rice Soup with Gruyere Gratineé

From master chef Steve W. Geving, of Blanchard, Idaho. Choose from morels, chanterelles, cepes, porcini, shiitake, trompets de la mort or woodear – fresh, frozen or dried and cleaned thoroughly. Whatever you choose, you should have at least 1 1/2 cups of reconstituted mushrooms, sliced.

3 tablespoons bacon fat

1 large onion, minced

3 stalks celery, minced

1/2 cup wild rice

1 1/2 cups wild mushrooms, sliced

2 quarts rich chicken stock

Thyme, pinch

Savory, pinch

2 or 3 bay leaves

Flour slurry, equal parts flour and water

Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

1 pint heavy cream

Gruyere cheese, grated

French or sourdough bread, sliced

In stock pot, place bacon fat, onions, celery and wild rice and sauté. Add mushrooms and chicken stock and boil for 30 minutes. Add a pinch of thyme and savory and 2 or 3 bay leaves and continue cooking until rice splits.

Make a slurry with a little water and flour and stir into soup to thicken. Start with a tablespoon each of flour and cold water and mix well before adding to the soup. Add additional flour slurry if it does not reach desired consistency.

Add a little Worcestershire (he recommends Lea & Perrins), salt and pepper to taste.

Add cream to soup and ladle into ovenproof bowls and cover with bread and mounds of Gruyere. Place in a preheated 450-degree oven and bake until cheese is bubbly and brown.

Caution: This will be extremely hot. Serve with additional sliced bread and sweet butter. A Maderia or sherry would be a nice match for this course.

Yield: 6 servings


From Marsha Loiacono and Erin Rauth, owners of The Flying Pig.

1 pound fettuccini or linguini

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups half and half

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 stick of butter

2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 pound bacon

Salt and black pepper to taste

In a small sauce pan, gently heat over a low setting the eggs and half and half. Stir often.

Dice the bacon and fry until crisp. Set aside.

Sauté mushrooms in butter. Set aside.

Boil pasta in heavily salted water according to package directions. Drain pasta then quickly assemble. In a large bowl toss hot pasta, crisp bacon, cheese, mushrooms and butter, eggs and half and half and then salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

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