For Associate Foods Editor Holley Johnson's large Italian family, the holidays are just another excuse to gather for delicious food, festive drinks, and of course, more food.
A Contri Christmas Menu:
- Cornbread Dressing
- Cream Cheese Pound Cake
- Spinach-Tortellini Soup
- Green Bean, Walnut, and Feta Salad
- Rosemary Roasted Turkey
- Amaretti Cookies
Like all large Italian families, the holidays are just another excuse to gather for delicious food, festive drinks, and of course...more food. The Contri family is no exception. For more than 50 years, my family has followed the same traditions every Christmas.
Before the death of my grandparents, Raymond and Ella Contri, their two daughters and spouses and children would gather at the Contri home in Birmingham, Alabama, on Christmas morning to drink Dom Perignon and toast another successful year. (Our family owns a specialty gift store, Contri Brothers Gift Basket, and Christmas day was usually the first opportunity for many of my family members to rest after a grueling two months of retail.) Following our toast, we would eat Italian sausage and crackers, Italian cheeses, and olives. We would then open presents and visit with second and third cousins that would drop by to wish us a happy holidays. Later in the afternoon, my great grandmother and great aunt and uncle would arrive and we would begin the Christmas meal.
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The first course was always the same: handmade tortellinis (my grandmother and aunt would make around 2,000 each year) in homemade broth. We called this soup "too-ta-leen." Before there was even an opportunity for that to digest, we would fill our plates again with turkey, dressing, broccoli casserole, and all of the usual holiday fixings. After the meal, the men would sneak into the bedrooms or onto the couchs and fall asleep watching football while the ladies sang Christmas carols and the grandchildren planned their "shows." After lunch and naps, we would start the next round, dessert, Italian cookies such as sucadines, eggnog, and for some, another bowl of too-ta-leen.
Because my grandparents are now deceased, my mom and aunt have continued the same traditions of Champagne, handmade tortellinis in homemade broth, and Italian sausage. The ladies of the family have learned to make the veal- and cheese-based tortellinis, and gather two times in November to make them. Also, the Italian sausage feast has been moved to my cousin’s house on Christmas Eve following mass. We purchase the sausage from a local Italian grocery store, bake it, then pan fry it, and eat it with hard sourdough rolls and spicy mustard. Through all of this and over all of the years, the most important factor has never been lost: the love of family and good food.