Christmas is finally here, together with its special and warm atmosphere. For me, there isn’t Christmas without the smell of Mandarine in our house. We burn the skins in the fire pit, make delicious mandarine infusions or simply have a big basket on the table filled up with lots of fresh mandarines from our garden. In our house, there’s no tombola without mandarines; they help release tension during the game and they’re probably the only guilt free food on our tables. The smell of mandarine is probably my Madeleine de Proust.
I immediately think back in time and see myself hiding on our mandarine tree in our garden and eating all its fruits. I used to climb on trees a lot and our mandarine tree was one of my favourite ones. Its very big branches were so comfortable to sit on top of that they basically allowed me to live there.
I had fruits, didn’t really need water, I had no reason to go down really. From the top of the tree I had a perfect view over the whole garden. I could monitor the entrance of our house, check on my grand parents and If I was lucky enough, I could also spy over the monastery down the hill. I grew up in that garden, I could draw a map of all its trees and plants, including my secret hiding places in case my mother got upset with me. I had my private clover spot, right under the big olive tree in the middle of the garden.
During Springs it would have beautiful yellow bellflowers. I had to put protection around it in order to not have the gardener trim it all. I took care of it in any way possible and only allowed a few people to come close: my grandfather Oscar, my sister Andrea and my little bunny Carotina.
Sometimes I love to fantasise about how the garden would look in the past, I can imagine all the people who stepped on the very same land where we live now, I love to imagine their thoughts and to think that in someways that place truly inspired them. Our house belonged to our great grandparents who had lived there before us.
My great grandfather Amedeo loved to spend time in our garden and planted many different fruit trees and medical plants. He used our garden for all his experiments, resulting in the creation of an orange liquor called Aurum. The liquor became a hit at the time and many intellectuals felt the need to try it. Poets like Gabriele D’Annunzio would write postcards to my great grandfather Amedeo and tell him how delicious his liquor was. They would write each other endless letters debating about it and in one, the poet suggested what later became the name of the liquor. The old factory is located in one of my favourite districts in Pescara and it is still today considered one of the most historical buildings of the city.
The Aurum is still today used a lot in our region, being the key ingredient of many desserts. I love to experiment with it, mixing flavours but keeping it simple and faithful to the savours I remember. I have often mixed Aurum with the mandarines from our garden, enhancing the taste of both.
A good marriage for me is roast chicken with mandarines, accompanied by red and purple roasted potatoes from Avezzano and oven baked pumpkin; absolutely delicious. Last but not least, as a dessert, I made a mandarine Aurum infused panettone, which turned out to be beautiful and really tasty. Panettone is probably one of my favourite desserts and around Christmas time our house is filled up with dozens of different ones. Every year is the same story: my father starts doing research on the internet at the beginning of November, in order to find the best and most delicious Panettone you can possibly get. I think we have tried more than 50 panettone over the last few years, but still haven’t found the perfect one, or maybe that’s just an excuse to keep on eating different ones.
As a result, in the first half of November I start having panettone for breakfast everyday until Christmas arrives and strangely enough I never get tired of it. Panettone is not so easy to make and it usually requires a long time to rise. But this version does not require so much time, and the result at the end is incredibly satisfying. Even my dad approved. The candied mandarines are so delicious and not comparable to the ones you buy in supermarkets; making things from scratch sometimes makes a whole difference.
On the day of our special lunch, I started cooking early; I baked the panettone first thing in the morning; that made the house smell heavenly for the whole day. I was so pleased with the result, that I’m going to make it again during the holidays. After the Panettone, all my attention went to the main dish: the roast chicken. I hadn’t made roast chicken for quite some time and I was happy to have it again. I asked Italo to help me get some mandarines for the chicken and Mia joined us as well. We got so many beautiful ones. This year they’re incredibly tasty, a perfect combination between sweetness and a hint of sourness, so juicy and perfumed. Exactly how I like them.
My dad was busy taking care of the wine, which he never drinks, but he still likes to know everything about; we had some Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a perfect marriage with our meal. My mother helped me with the cooking, we sliced all the potatoes and pumpkin before putting them in the oven. In the living room, my sister was busy setting up the table. We put together a nice lunch and invited my Grandmother Giovanna to join us; all the things we love about Christmas were put together on our lunch table, right next to our Christmas tree.
I can’t believe the holidays are finally here: board game evenings with friends, family time, Christmas movies, fire place…That’s the Christmas I love and that’s the Christmas I wish to you all.
Roast Chicken with Mandarines and Aurum
- 1 whole chicken
- 6 to 10 mandarines cut in half (depending on the size)
- 2 mandarines for the stuffing
- half a glass of Aurum (or any other orange liquor)
- sage, thyme
- 2 shallots cut in half
- 4 garlics
- 1 tbs of honey
- 1 tbs butter and olive oil
- salt and pepper
- extra butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C set on a non convection mode. Cover the bottom of a large roasting pan with the halved mandarines . Stuff the chicken with herbs, coarsely chopped mandarines, shallots and two garlics. Season well the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the chicken over the Mandarines, add the rest of the garlics around it. Rub the skin of the chicken first with a halved mandarine, then with butter. Season generously with salt and pepper, add extra olive oil and the tbs of honey.
Place in the oven and cook for about 1 h 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven, increase the temperature to 220 °C . In the meanwhile, scoop some of the gravy at the bottom of the pan and pour it over the chicken. Repeat a few times and put back the pan in the oven for about 10 /15 minutes more until perfectly golden and cooked.
Remove the chicken from the pan and make sure to drain all of its juices in a saucepan; squeeze in some of the roasted mandarines and heat the liquid until it starts simemring; add the Aurum, let the alcohol evaporate and add the extra butter. Taste it and season it if necessary.
Wait until it thickens and reduces to a nice gravy.
Carve the chicken and serve it with the sauce, together with roasted potatoes.
Aurum infused Panettone with almonds and candied mandarines
Ingredients for the candied mandarines:
- 500 gr organic mandarines
- 250 gr sugar
- 250 gr water
Ingredients for the Panettone:
- 500 gr strong white flour
- 130 gr extra fine sugar
- 150 ml of water and Aurum liquor (75 +75 ml)
- 100 gr butter
- 5 gr salt
- 7 gr fresh yeast
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- orange zest
- lemon zest
- 150 gr raisins soaked in Aurum and drained
- 100 gr chocolate chips (it’s best to freeze them before using them)
- 150 gr candied mandarine slices cut in chunks
For the glazing:
- 40 gr almond flour
- 10 gr cornstarch
- 100 gr granulated sugar
- 1 egg white
- confectioners sugar
- a few drops of almond essence
- a handful of slivered almonds
Rinse the mandarines and slice them about 4 mm thick; remove seeds and place them in a large pot with water and sugar. Let them boil at low/medium temperature, for about an hour until the skins are soft and transparent and the liquid is reduced to a syrup. Leave the mandarines in the liquid until completely cool.
In a stand mixer bowl place the flour, the crumbled fresh yeast, sugar, honey, cold butter cut in small cubes, eggs, the yolk, lemon, orange zest and half of the water/Aurum mixture. Mix shortly at low speed with a bread hook attachment.
Add the rest of the aurum/water mixture and salt. Knead the dough for about 10/15 minutes; increase the speed for a few minutes and lower it back a couple of times until all the flour has been absorbed and the dough comes together in a fairly smooth ball. Add the raisins, the chocolate chips, the candied mandarines and keep on mixing the dough at low speed until everything is well combined. Butter your hands and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and pat into a round shape. Place it in a lightly greased bowl and cover it with cling film. Let it rise for about 30 minutes and then place it into the fridge overnight (in my case, it was about 8 hours).
The next day, take the dough out of the fridge and place it somewhere warm (about 40/50 °C) . Let it rise until doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours. Work the dough on a board for a few minutes and put it inside the Panettone mould (I used a 750 gr classic paper mould) and let it rise again until it peeks over the top of the pan, about 2 hours (when in doubt, it’s better to under-proof rather than over-proof the dough, so bake it as soon as you start wondering if it’s ready.)
In the meantime, combine the egg white with the almond flour, corn starch and almond essence. Beat lightly with a whisk and keep on the side.
When the panettone is ready to be baked, cover it with the almond mixture, the slivered almond and dust it generously with the sugar. Allow it to cook at 185 °C for about 45 minutes in a non convection oven. If you see the panettone becoming too dark, you can cover it with aluminum foil and continue with the cooking. Test it with a toothpick to see if it’s ready.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool at room temperature. It is delicious served with a custard or dark chocolate sauce.