Frank Spinelli had a gift for bringing people together. From his earliest days of importing Italian newspapers and espresso for his friends and neighbours in Edmonton, he and his wife, Rina, always had a place for people to come together, talk politics, drink coffee and, of course, eat.
Sixty years after Frank and Rina opened their first Italian Centre Shop in Edmonton, their daughter, Teresa, celebrates that legacy of community and hospitality in what has become a large family of three stores in Edmonton, one in Calgary and two more on the way, each carrying more than 30,000 items that bring the flavours of Italy to Alberta. Legacy, tradition, quality and family are at the heart of Teresa’s aspirations for the stores and for her community – and never is that more apparent than at Christmas.
“Christmas has always been a big deal,” she says. “Everyone would come over to our house. Anyone who didn’t have somewhere to go was welcome at our table. We had people from all over the world and from all walks of life at our house for Christmas. And it’s still that way today.”
In the early days, upwards of 20 people would eat, laugh and argue about whose homemade wine was better around a table laden with meats, fruits and cheeses, with braciola and chicken cutlets, with green peas, rapini and salad and nuts. From noon until 9 p.m., friends, family and newcomers would come and go from the Spinelli dining room.
And from all that food, drink and communion, a few dishes stand out for Teresa as the definitive Christmas dishes in the Spinelli home.
“Mom’s ricotta and spinach ravioli was always there,” she says. “And panettone (Christmas cake). To this day, everyone brings a panettone. Growing up, I wasn’t a big fan, but today they make them lighter and there are more flavours.”
Another sweet treat that stands out for Teresa is struffoli, a dish made of deep-fried marbles of sweet dough arranged in a wreath shape.
While Frank passed away in 2001, and the Christmas lunches have moved to her cousin’s house, Teresa still hosts Christmas Eve. In the Italian Catholic tradition, that means serving the Feast of Seven Fishes. The tradition comes from southern Italy, where it’s known as La Vigilia — a celebration that commemorates the wait for the midnight birth of Jesus.The Spinelli family adapted the tradition to include 12 fish dishes – bringing a whole new realm of flavours and textures to the table.
One of Teresa’s favourites is actually not Italian at all, rather a traditional Portuguese dish called bacalhau bras – a salted codfish, egg and potato layered casserole. While the dish is Portuguese, baccalà, or salted cod, is also a southern Italian Christmas Eve staple.
If you’d like to infuse your holiday meals with a little Italian gusto, but would rather leave the prep to the professionals, Teresa says many delectable offerings can be found in Massimo’s Cucina Italiana line of foods, the Italian Centre Shop’s own brand of heat-and-eat meals, sauces, fresco-to-go salads, dips and soups.
She also says mountains of panettone in all sorts of flavours fly out the doors during the holidays, adding that the Italian Centre Shops sell more today than they ever have.
However you choose to prepare your holiday meals this year, we hope your table sees as much love, laughter and community as the Spinellis have at theirs. Buon Natale!
Teresa’s recipes for spinach and ricotta ravioli, bacalhau bras and struffoli can be found at www.savourcalgary.ca.
Struffoli photo and recipe courtesy of A Tavola at a_tavolayyc