Every year around the holidays I tend to take several days off. I rarely travel—I do plenty of that during the rest of the year—and I spend time with the family at home. I also don't smoke as many cigars over my break as I do while working, so the ones I do enjoy have to be special. In short, I slow things down.
We're big on holiday rituals at Casa Savona, and that includes a big fish feast on Christmas Eve, a nod to my (part) Sicilian heritage. We try for seven fishes. There's always shrimp cocktail to start, and usually linguine with clam sauce or branzino. This year we took a different route to the seven. We added sushi as appetizers to join the shrimp, and for our main course I cooked sautéed cod with a ginger, lemon and shitake infused broth. Not my creation—it comes from a guy named Eric Ripert who knows quite a bit about fish. It's very good. (Wine Spectator has the recipe, which you can get here.)
The recipe isn't quick, but it also isn't terribly hard. First I chopped the shallot, mushrooms and garlic, then added them to a pan. After letting them sweat, I added stock and let it simmer. Then it was time to prepare the greens, and finally the fish. I sliced big filets (I was feeding five) sautéed them just so, and put the cod on the greens, then spooned the broth around the entire dish. My mother-in-law, who knows good food, gave me a thumbs up, which made me smile.
I skipped the cigar that night, but the next day I was ready for a good one. On Christmas Day I lit up Ramon Allones Specially Selected robustos with my brother and brother-in-law, paired with some 20-year-old Plantation rum from Barbados. The cigar, which came from a cabinet of 50, is Cigar Aficionado's No. 2 of the year, and it lived up to my expectations. Smoking away after a big Christmas meal with family, listening to the kids running around inside playing with their new toys, a huge meal in our bellies—all was right with the world.
We tried another new thing on New Year's Eve, and this might become a family tradition. We have long had a hand-cranked pasta machine in the house, and we rarely use it. New Year's Eve seemed like the perfect night for making a batch of homemade pasta. Is it better than dry pasta? I think so. But taste be damned, watching the whole family get involved was the best part. Manuela, my wife, made a mound of flour (half OO, half all purpose), made a hole in the middle and added egg yolks, then took out a fork and began to mix. Slowly, the flour and egg became a ball of dough. We watched her knead away for quite some time, until it was just right. After letting it sit for a half an hour, we cut it into pieces. She fed a piece into the machine, my son cranked, and slowly it became ever thinner. A change of the settings, more cranking, another change—after some work we had thin strips. A few slices with a pizza cutter—we weren't trying to be exact, that was part of the fun—and we had fresh pasta. A few minutes in boiling water, a little homemade sauce, and we were all smiles.
Things happen when you slow it down. Conversation. Laughs. Eye contact. You can't use a cell phone when your hands are covered with homemade dough. Making things from scratch gives you a precise assessment of what's in your food, and working for your meal makes it taste even better.
New Year's Day I lit up a special cigar, alone—a Padrón Millennium. That was paired with a 25-year-old Highland Park. Like the Cuban cigar and the rum I had the week before, all were superb, creations made slowly, carefully, the product of taking your time.
As I sipped my Scotch and puffed my cigar, I thought about the year that had gone by and thought about the year ahead. It was a wonderful holiday.