Alternatives to the traditional Christmas have been offered up by food hacks like me for at least 20 years. Turkey is denigrated — though not by me — goose is expensive and tricky, and big family gatherings are less common: it is no wonder if traditions have been eroded somewhat.
It looks like Christmas is going to be pretty sketchy this year, so it seems silly to try to get through it without inordinate, obscene and stultifying quantities of both food and drink. My cellar will be well stocked and my goose ordered and I shall be getting in hefty chunks of cheese and tooth-extracting quantities of panforte, panettone, marrons glacés and Christmas cake. I shall cook and eat for 10 days, a Saturnalia interrupted only by a brisk walk up the hill with the dogs in the morning and sleep — much of the latter on the sofa in front of the television.
Given this tough regime, there has to be more than one feast. Christmas Eve is a feast day in Europe and we should follow their example. That does not preclude the traditional guzzle the next day, nor the splendid lunch we usually enjoy some time on Boxing Day afternoon. Maybe a day or two of restraint should follow — light duties involving chicken and ham pie, goose hash and good soup — before serious work should be resumed on New Year’s Eve.
The menu below is a good all-purpose template for the season. Most of it is simple and involves little work apart from the pasta, which will take up most of an afternoon. But then many of us will have little better to do. Besides, this is no time for slackers: I intend to cook — and eat — my way out of this annus horribilis.
All recipes for six to eight
How long you douse the fillets in the marinade is a matter of choice.
If you want to cure the fish completely, the marinade will need half an hour at least. I like to keep the fish almost entirely raw: the freezing will help facilitate the slicing.
The biscuits are optional but give a nice twist to the mix. A few drops of almond essence are also permissible. Double rolling the pasta gives it a strong-but-silky finish. Allow five to seven tortellini per person.
It might seem sacrilegious to cook a leg until it is on the point of disintegration but the proof of the pudding is there. Besides, it could not be simpler.
A nice alternative to mashed potato.
I used to think cavolo nero needed long braising but this bright, quick approach is very refreshing.
Strip the leaves off the stalks and rinse them in cold water. Heat a large frying pan or wok with a film of olive oil and sear the leaves until they wilt. Season well with sea salt and a pinch of chilli flakes if desired.
A reasonably light way to finish what has been a pretty big effort.
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