The most important ingredient for the holidays is the feeling of togetherness, especially during the times we are living in now,” says Fabio Trabocchi. The brand-new American citizen has been in the U.S. for two decades, but he grew up in Italy’s Marche region, just east of Tuscany.
His focus on being close to loved ones traces back to the fact that he didn’t get to spend the holidays at home for long. Since the age of 14, he’s been busy on the line. “For every year after that, I always worked in a restaurant, dreaming of what Christmas had been when I was a child and trying to recreate that spirit and pleasure with friends and customers wherever I was,” he explains.
Of course, food plays a significant role in that. Both at his restaurants and at home with his family, he tries to replicate the Feast of the Seven Fishes that his father used to make. “Our seafood selections were the best my father could find in the market and often included branzino, clams, mussels, baby octopus, prawns, mackerel and, of course, the must-have for Christmas Eve: eels,” the chef says. Individual dishes were dictated by his father’s finds, so each year, the menu was a surprise.
And Trabocchi says that helping his family prepare their holiday repast was part of the genesis of his career as a chef. He started sharing tips and tricks that he learned in culinary school with his father, resulting in a holiday that hewed a little less to tradition. That included dishes like the festive stuffed maccheroni dish he bestows on readers here.
But this year, Trabocchi says he’s especially excited to mark the new year, his favorite holiday. “I like to celebrate the people I love, what they’ve accomplished in the year and what is ahead for them in the new year,” he says. And this year, it will be as a newly minted American, combining the traditions of his native land and his adopted home.
Fabio Trabocchi /chef-owner
1100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Cotoletta di Vitello al Miele (Roasted Veal Chops with Honey)
Start to finish: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Four 8-ounce, 1-inch-thick veal rib chops
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound seedless green grapes
1/4 cup unsalted butter
8 whole cloves
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 sage sprigs
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
2 cups dry white wine, such as verdicchio or pinot grigio
11/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons Corbezzolo honey or other aromatic honey
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Season veal chops lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Place on a plate, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes. Slice grapes in half lengthwise, and set aside.
Place two large saute pans over medium-high heat. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in each pan. Add 2 chops to each pan, and cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Divide cloves, bay leaves, sage, and anchovies evenly between both pans, and saute 3 minutes.
Add 1 cup wine to each pan; bring to a boil, scraping browned bits from bottom of pan using a wooden spatula or spoon. Cook until wine has almost completely evaporated.
Turn chops, and add ¾ cup chicken stock to each pan. Bring to a simmer, and cook 4 minutes. Turn chops over, and simmer 4 minutes more, or until cooked to medium. Transfer veal to a serving dish, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Pour cooking liquid from both pans through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan. Bring cooking liquid to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Add sliced grapes and honey, stir, and cook 4 minutes.
Stir 1/4 cup cold butter pieces into sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over veal chops, and serve.
Boccolotti alla Pesarese (Baked Stuffed Maccheroni)
Servings: 4, with leftovers
Start to finish: 1 hour, 50 minutes
1 pound extra-large rigatoni
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
31/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
½ pound prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch dice
½ pound veal loin, cut into 1/4-inch dice
½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 ounces wild mushrooms or black truffles, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/3 pound chicken livers, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch dice
¾ cup dry Marsala
Freshly ground white pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups chicken stock
1½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
Freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon melted butter
MAKE THE PASTA: Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook rigatoni until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and place in a large bowl. Toss cooked pasta with olive oil, and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Toss occasionally using a wooden spoon as pasta cools to prevent sticking.
MAKE THE STUFFING: Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and prosciutto, and cook until shallots are soft and translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add veal, chicken and mushrooms, if using, and saute, stirring often, until meat has browned, about 5 minutes. Add chicken livers; saute 2 minutes.
Add Marsala, and bring to a simmer, scraping browned bits from bottom of pan using a wooden spatula or spoon. Simmer until wine is reduced by one-third, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper, and transfer mixture to a food processor.
Add truffles, if using, and Parmigiano-Reggiano to mixture in food processor; process until smooth. With the machine running, add cream and egg yolks, and process until thoroughly blended.
Check seasoning by cooking a quarter-size patty of stuffing in a small saute pan. Taste cooked stuffing, and adjust seasoning as desired. Transfer stuffing to a covered container, and refrigerate for least 1 hour, or up to 1 day, to blend flavors.
MAKE THE SAUCE: Combine cream and chicken stock in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer gently until liquid is reduced to 11/2 cups. Transfer cream mixture to a blender. Add 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and white pepper, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400°F with oven rack in middle position. Remove stuffing from refrigerator, and spoon into a pastry bag fitted with a 1⁄2-inch plain tip. Pipe stuffing into cooked rigatoni; place stuffed pasta on a tray.
Using a pastry brush, generously brush two 191⁄2-by-111⁄2-inch gratin dishes or other large baking dishes with just enough melted butter to cover. Arrange stuffed rigatoni in baking dishes in a single layer. Pour sauce over rigatoni, and sprinkle evenly with remaining ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Bake pasta in preheated oven until top is lightly browned and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.