An Italian Christmas Eve

Savor spaghetti with anchovies and bread crumbs, salt-baked striped bass, semifreddo, and more

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The next course ― a whole salt-baked striped bass ― borrows from the Sicilian traditions of Rosetta's husband, Lino, who was raised in Palermo. The salt crust retains all the juices, so the flesh remains moist. Rosetta cracks the hard, baked crust with a mallet, and it peels off easily in chunks. The silky white fish needs no adornment beyond salmoriglio, a Sicilian sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano. The chiles, or peperoncini, that Rosetta adds are a Calabrian signature. Side dishes include cauliflower salad, broccoli rabe from the garden, and a fresh seafood salad of compelling simplicity.

After the main course, a parade of desserts and confections keeps the family at the table for hours, nibbling on chocolate-covered dried figs, cousin Rosangela's chinulle (sweet fried ravioli with chestnut-and-chocolate filling), and cicirata (tiny fritters with honey). But the scene-stealer is Rosetta's semifreddo al torrone, a frozen dessert that showcases Calabria's famed nougat. Inspired by Calabria, it's a certified California hit.

INFO: Rosetta Costantino's Emeryville, CA, cooking classes sell out almost as fast as she can post them on her website (from $85; cookingwithrosetta.com).

In early 2009, W.W. Norton & Company will publish her Calabrian cookbook, the first major U.S. cookbook on the ancestral home of many Italian Americans.

THE RECIPES

Spaghetti with Anchovies and Bread Crumbs ( Spaghetti con Acciughe e Mollica)
Chiles add spark to this sauce, with toasted bread crumbs sprinkled in for pleasing crunch.

Toasted Fresh Bread Crumbs
Crunchy toasted bread crumbs are a traditional substitute for cheese on pasta.

Salt-Baked Striped Bass with Herb Lemon Chile Sauce ( Branzino Sotto Sale con Salmoriglio)
You might expect a whole fish baked in salt to taste salty, but it doesn't. It's exceptionally moist, because the salt seals in juices.

Mixed Seafood Salad ( Insalata ai Frutti di Mare)
Calabrians keep their seafood salad simple so the shellfish flavor stands out. It's a juicy dish, so be sure to offer bread for dipping.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Chiles ( Rape Fritte)
Despite its name, broccoli rabe is botanically closer to turnip greens than to broccoli.

Almond Nougat Semifreddo with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce ( Semifreddo al Torrone)
Torrone (hard almond nougat) is an Italian specialty and one of many confections associated with the Christmas feast. Most Calabrian families eat it unadorned; Rosetta Costantino chops it and then folds it into a semifreddo ― a frozen custard dessert similar to ice cream ― to give tradition a delicious twist.

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