It’s still chilly, it’s still snowing. Winter is a season to be revered and is a time for cozying up with loved ones, staying in with friends, and as we’ve all come to expect…indulging on our favourite comfort foods. This month, Carla De Luca returns to share expert insight on all things comfort. No stranger to comforting, delectable, and indulgent Italian foods, Carla knows just how to host, serve, and style the perfect winter comfort meal with friends. Enjoy!
What are your favourite foods during winter months?
Winter months are perfect for staying in with a bottle of wine, and enjoying the art of cooking. It’s time for hand-made pastas, rich sauces that take hours to simmer on the stove, pizzas, and of course, roasted meats. Anything that takes a little extra time is perfect, since the cold weather can keep you tucked away inside for entire weekends at a time.
What are your go-to comfort foods for entertaining?
Winter entertaining and family style meals go hand-in-hand. It’s ideal time for preparing rustic dishes that seem to fit better served right out of the roasting pan.
- Porchetta is one of our (De Luca!) favourites, as it takes hours to cook and you can fill the roasting pan with hearty vegetables and potatoes that soak up the beautiful wine and pan juices while they cook.
- Creamy polenta is another great dish to serve alongside any meat dish.
- Pizza is a favourite for entertaining, as it brings a wonderful sense of community to your kitchen – I love to cook thin pizzas on a pizza stone and get my guests involved in the assembly. Pizzas only take 10 minutes to cook, and are great to make and snack on as they come out of the oven.
If you’re going to indulge, what would be your top three “worth it” food items to eat?
- Pasta: there is nothing more satisfying than a handmade, pillowy-stuffed pasta filled with a creamy ricotta, tossed in a rich brown butter sauce and sprinkled with a generous amount of aged parmigiano reggiano cheese.
- Cheese: there is triple cream brie, truffle pecorino, and many more indulgent cheese to choose from, but when it comes to the ultimate indulgence with cheese, burrata is the way to go. Fresh mozzarella bundled into a beautiful pocket filled with a mix of shredded cheese curds and cream! One slice of the knife and the oozy goodness comes out. Pair it with a slice of grilled Calabrese bread, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt…… amazing!
- Risotto: made with a generous amount of butter and handfuls of parmesan cheese, this is a great way to indulge! Adding wild mushrooms and shaved truffles on top makes it a perfect indulgent dish.
If you lean towards vegetarian or plant-based eating, what comfort food do you recommend?
Tomato sauces are great ways to get the comfort you desire, but with a health-conscious alternative. As your foundation, use a good extra virgin olive oil with sautéed onions and garlic, and the options are endless from there. You can add chickpeas, lentils, and vegetables to make a hearty sauce for spelt pasta (or even zucchini spirals if you want to eliminate the pasta altogether) – just use good quality tomatoes and you’ll achieve a natural sweetness without adding anything else to the sauce. Soup is another great winter dish that can be filled with healthy choices: make your own vegetable stock to achieve a rich base, and if you do eat meat, you can add a bit of Italian sausage to give the soup a touch of depth. Throw in some sautéed kale and cannellini beans and you have a wonderful, hearty soup.
What are your go-to indulgent winter desserts?
When hosting get-togethers during cold months, what says indulgence better than tiramisu!? My new favourite is an even richer version of the classic that we added to the De Luca’s menu this year: layers of ladyfingers that are dipped in a chocolate grappa and espresso, chocolate hazelnut ganache layered with mascarpone, and a dusting of dark cocoa on top! Worth every bite.
If you’re tight for time, what appetizers are best?
Crostini topped with just about anything are so great for entertaining: they’re just a few bites and you can make them so versatile. In the winter (since tomatoes aren’t always at their prime) I find it best to slow roast tomatoes in the oven to bring out the natural sweetness. Spread some goat cheese on the crostini, top with roasted tomatoes, and pop them in the oven for just a few minutes to warm them up. Drizzle with aged balsamic, and you’ve got a simple appetizer done (and a great little bite before dinner!). If you have a bit of extra time, slow roast some lamb in fresh herbs and wine. Once it’s tender, shred the pieces and place on crostini with some fontina cheese and caramelized shallots. It takes a little more to prep, but is worth it!
What can you wear in the kitchen that blends style and function (that easily goes from cooking to entertaining)?
Aprons have become very fashionable, with chic skinny pinstripes and brown suede straps, so I don’t mind wearing it while I have guests over. Some new aprons tend to be made of thick fabrics like a heavy leather, so I don’t recommend those as it may be a bit tricky to sit down comfortably.
Although, when he has the time, Michael tends to be the main occupier of our kitchen (he is a foodie through and through and loves to cook – and dare I say – control our kitchen!), I do love the opportunity to spend time preparing for and entertaining friends in our home, even when it seems simpler to just order in or meet out for dinner. AND, who doesn’t like foods that can be made in and served right out of a roasting pan? A gentle reminder of all those Sunday dinners as a child spent with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
So next time, instead of going out or ordering in, take Carla’s advice and open up a bottle of red, gather with friends around the kitchen island or counter, and enjoy the privilege of cooking together. Why? Because it’s these times that breaking bread together can probe great conversation and laughter, be the most memorable and the most fun – and because we can!
Carla is the Director of Events & Marketing for De Luca’s grocery store, cooking studio, and restaurant, and is a D by denise influencer (see her post on Al Fresco Dining!). Learn more about Carla here.
Photos: Pauline Boldt
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