Cappelletti and What Time Is Midnight Mass?
A Vino Aperitivo for the Season
It’s early on Christmas Eve when the phone rings in the parish office, and the caller asks “What time is Midnight Mass?” Honest. Every year at parishes around the world inquiring minds want to know. A friend who was a parish administrator herself said that she fielded dozens of such calls every Christmas. We all chuckled at the goofy question. And every Christmas Eve morning I called my friend at work, put on my silliest, most heavily accented voice and asked the very same question. I could hear the hesitation in her voice while she figured it out, and then she replied “And Merry Christmas to you too, Miss Adri.” It was our very own Christmas greeting.
But Christmas Eve Midnight mass presents its own logistical problems. What do you serve before Mass? We’ve eaten a big feast just hours before, but by the time 10 PM rolls around, as the rest of the relatives arrive for a visit and the drive to the family parish, everyone is ready for “a little something” to tide us over. Somehow when I think of Mass, and what to drink, I think of Italian vermouth – served straight up in a pretty etched glass. But it is Christmas, and that should have you seeing and serving red, the festive kind, crimson with citrus and herbal notes. I know. You think I am talking about Campari, or perhaps Aperol. Nope. Allow me to introduce you to Cappelletti. It’s not the Bridge convention, nor is it Modena’s famous pasta, the “little hats” bathed in capon broth so popular at this time of year.
No, the Cappelletti I am talking about is ruby-red and round, like that famous reindeer’s nose. It is a bold and distinctly aromatic vino aperitivo (wine-based aperitivo) made from Trebbiano grapes and Alpine herbs. For over one hundred years the Cappelletti family, in Italy’s northern Alto Adige has made this vino aperitivo, and it even has its own nickname – Il Specialino. Before the Italian grammar police get all wild over the use of Il rather than Lo, that is the company’s name, not mine. OK?
Think of it as the kinder cousin of Campari, the subtle little sister of Aperol. With its delicacy and bittersweet orange flavor, it is gentler, and yet somehow fuller in flavor than its red relatives. The finish is particularly pleasing with a chinchona bite, but less of a bitter kick than Campari. A note on color – for those purists among you who are disappointed with the artificial coloring now used in Campari, there is reason to rejoice. Cappelletti get its crimson hue from real carmine derived from crushed cochineal beetles, a dye from the old days.
Use Cappelletti anywhere you might use Aperol or Campari – in a Negroni or Negroni Sbagliato, a Boulevardier, or an Americano. Try it mixed with white wine and an orange twist for a turn on the classic Spritz. If you have something to celebrate (which would be just about every day at this time of year), pour it into a Prosecco-filled flute, and add some orange bitters. I strongly recommend you make space for Cappelletti on your bar cart, especially if you find Campari or even Aperol a challenge.
Cappelletti & Soda
This can also be made with tonic water, if desired. Fill a rocks glass ¾ full with ice. Add 2 ounces of Cappelletti, or to taste, and top with soda or tonic water. Garnish with an orange wheel, and serve.
Prosecco & Cappelletti
Fill a flute ¾ full with well-chilled Prosecco. Add a splash of Cappelletti, and a dash of orange bitters, if desired. Garnish with an orange twist. Serve.
Serve the Cappelletti cocktails with Mezzelune ai fungi and two versions of crostini topped with Gorgonzola dolce. The mezzelune are little puff pastry half-moons filled with mushrooms, shallots, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Italian parsley. Both crostini feature Italy’s famous Gorgonzola dolce, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese. Ivory in color with delicate blue veins, the cheese is made in the Northern Italian regions of Piemonte and Lombardia and gets its subtle blue veining from Penicillin spores. One is topped with toasted hazelnuts, basil and a dash of rich oil, and the other with an indulgent fig mostarda. This light meal is so good it is almost sinful, but it will get you to the church on time.
Mezzelune ai Fungi
makes about 50
These puff pastry half-moons have been a favorite in our home for well over thirty years – ever since I learned to make them from a dear friend, Carolyn Thacker. Grazie, Carolyn! They are perfect with wine and cocktails. These antipasti can be prepared weeks ahead and frozen unbaked. Use any mushrooms you like, white button, cremini or Italy’s famous fungi porcini. If you are using frozen puff pastry, place it, still in its box, in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. Remove the puff pastry from its box, and place it on the counter to warm for about 15 minutes before unwrapping. If the puff pastry becomes difficult to work with or gets too soft at any point, return it to the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes.
1 ½ pounds of prepared puff pastry
1 pound cremini mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp towel
½ cup minced Italian parsley
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
¾ cup dry bread crumbs
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg
Place the shallots in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse to mince. Add the mushrooms and Italian parsley. Pulse to mince. Place the oil and butter in a 10-inch skillet, and heat over a medium flame. Add the mushroom mixture and ½ teaspoon of fine sea salt. As the mushrooms cook, they will release moisture. Continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated, about 10-11 minutes. Combine the mushroom mixture, Parmigiano, bread crumbs, and pepper in a medium bowl. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, if desired. Set aside to cool.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Flour a rolling pin, and roll the puff pastry to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut the puff pastry into 3-inch rounds. Place the rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate them for 20 minutes. Remove the puff pastry rounds from the refrigerator, and place 1 teaspoon of filling just off-center on each round. Moisten the edge with water, and fold over to form a half-moon shape. Press the edges together with a fork. Place the mezzelune in 1 layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate them for 1 hour prior to baking. For longer storage, place the mezzelune in the freezer in one layer, and freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Transfer them to an airtight container, and keep frozen until ready to bake.
To bake, adjust the oven rack to the center level, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Make an egg wash by lightly beating together the egg and 1 teaspoon of water. Place the mezzelune on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet, and brush with the egg wash. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Serve warm.
Crostini with Gorgonzola Dolce and Mostarda di Fichi
Italy’s mostarde are delightful sweet and sour preserves cooked in a syrup flavored with mustard – either in powdered form, seeds, or essential oil. Here I used Mostarda di Fichi , a fig mostarda, made by Corte Donda in Lombardy. Chunks of luscious figs are suspended in a sweet syrup flavored with mustard oil. This one is positively decadent. The succulent pieces of cooked fig are set atop the crostini, and the thick, shiny syrup oozes over the cheese and drips onto the plate. This is also wonderful with softened or grilled Taleggio.
baguette or country style bread
Mostarda di Fichi
Set the Gorgonzola dolce out to soften. Heat a grill pan for five minutes over medium heat. Slice the bread on a slight angle to yield pieces with a large surface area, about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Grill on both sides until slightly warm and lightly marked.
Spread the softened cheese atop the crostini and spoon the Mostarda di Fichi over. Serve.
Crostini with Ricotta, Gorgonzola Dolce, Toasted Hazelnuts, and Basil
These crostini topped with a mild, yet rich mixture of moist Gorgonzola dolce and cow’s milk ricotta will literally disappear from the buffet table and trays. Toasted hazelnuts, with their rich nutty taste, and basil, with its licorice and lemon notes, are perfect partners for the two cheeses. A dribble of fine hazelnut oil or extra virgin olive oil will enrich the crostini, marrying the components in one succulent bite. Light yellow and brimming with the essence of hazelnut, Pariani hazelnut oil adds an unmatched voluptuousness to this antipasto. It is exquisitely expensive, but worth every penny. If you prefer to use extra virgin olive oil, I suggest Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a Tuscan oil made by food writer and cookbook author Pamela Sheldon Johns. Pamela’s oil is smooth and fruity with just enough peppery zing to offer a delightful counterpoint to the cheeses, basil, and hazelnuts.
¼ -½ inch thick slices of baguette
8 ounces Gorgonzola dolce
4 ounces whole milk ricotta
½ cup hazelnuts
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
Extra virgin olive oil
Adjust the oven rack to the center position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast 12 to 15 minutes, stirring several times, until fragrant. Remove the nuts from the oven and place them on a clean, lint-free kitchen towel. Gather the towel and rub the nuts together to remove as much of the skins as possible. Discard the skins. Once the nuts are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely, and set them aside.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan for five minutes over medium heat. Slice the bread on a slight angle to yield pieces with a large surface area, Grill the bread on both sides until slightly warm and lightly marked. Peel the garlic clove and cut it in half. Rub one side of the warm bread with the cut surface of the garlic. (If you prefer no garlic, omit this step.)
Break the gorgonzola into small pieces and combine it with the ricotta. If you prefer a smooth mixture, blend further, using a fork to mash the cheeses together. For a completely smooth mixture, place the cheeses in the food processor fitted with the metal knife and pulse until smooth. Spread a bit of the mixture on the garlic-rubbed surface of each slice of bread. Place basil (either tiny leaves or larger leaves cut in chiffonade) atop the cheese mixture. Dot the crostini with the chopped toasted hazelnuts. Arrange the crostini on serving plates and dribble a bit of hazelnut oil or extra virgin olive oil over them, allowing the oil to pool in the nooks and crannies of the cheese topping. Serve.
Corte Donda Mostarda di Fichi is available from Amazon and Market Hall Foods
Pariani Hazelnut Oil is available from Eataly
Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available from Olio2Go
Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo is available from K&L Wines and other purveyors of fine wines and spirits, about $19.00 for a 750 ml bottle.
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I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.
Nativity scene photo credit: hdwallpapers.cat