Aldo Zilli's magic little twists to make Christmas dinner even yummier

Posted on: 24th Dec 2016 by: Aldo Zilli


I will never forget the first time I tasted turkey (at home in Italy, we serve pork on Christmas Day). It was like chewing an envelope. I honestly couldn’t believe anything so dry and tasteless could be regarded as a treat.

In fact the secret to a moist, tasty turkey is ridiculously simple — and can be found in your fruit bowl.

Cook them with little oranges, and you’ll have a moist bird with a wonderfully subtle flavour that hints at Italian summers.

First, take a packet of softened butter, and mash it with the zest of one orange and one lemon, and salt and pepper. Two teaspoons each of dried thyme and sage, and chilli flakes, would also be nice if you have them.

You can do this today and leave it in the fridge until you need it. When it’s time to cook, make a small incision in the turkey’s skin and peel it gently away from the breast.

Place one third of the butter mix under the skin and spread out with the back of a spoon, then slather another third over the skin. Finish by popping the rest of the butter into the bird, along with two halved, peeled satsumas or clementines — these will steam inside the bird, and keep it succulent.

Roast as you normally would — I like to do it on top of a bed of root vegetables and add a bottle of white wine, before covering my bird in foil. How long it takes will depend on your size of turkey, so be sure to check the packaging.

After the first hour of roasting, baste the turkey every 30 minutes. For the final 30 minutes, remove the tin foil to allow the turkey to brown.

Check your bird is cooked by pushing a skewer under the turkey leg so that it pierces the skin. The juices should be clear, with no traces of blood.

If you’re using a meat thermometer, the turkey thighs should read 80c and the breasts 75c.
You could also garnish the turkey breast with wafer-thin slices of clementines if you like. It will look (and taste) stunning.


As we all know well, Brussels sprouts can be boring.

But add a simple Italian store cupboard staple and they will become spectacular.
I start by steaming them (never boil as this destroys the texture and flavour) until just soft — check with a skewer, it’ll take about two minutes.

Then I saute them in olive oil for around eight minutes, and fold in a few spoonfuls of pesto (I use Sacla’s £2.40 jar, which contains truffles for an indulgent treat. Available at supermarkets and

I also love to add pre-cooked chestnuts to the pan and crisp Italian pancetta (or bacon if you prefer) for a festive feel.


The perfect roastie is fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Is that hard to achieve? Not my way.

I learned this trick from my brilliant mother — who provided meals for nine children every single day.
She made her roast potatoes extra crunchy by coating them with pecorino cheese, but you can use parmesan. Prepare your roast potatoes as you normally would, by cutting them into even-sized pieces and parboiling.

Then, just before you put them into the oven (I like to use goose fat), coat the potatoes in around 75g of finely grated parmesan per 1kg of potatoes.

You can also add 2tsp of semolina per 1kg of potatoes as it makes them really crisp. Cook as normal for around 45 minutes in a 200c oven, turning every 15 minutes or so. They’ll be wonderfully savoury and crisp when they come out — and your guests will never guess why.


If, like me, you buy bagfuls of nuts at Christmas, which no one ever gets round to eating — then this tip is for you.

The crunchiness of the nuts works brilliantly with the sweet, honeyed parsnips.

You don’t even have to bother peeling them, which means you get all the nutrients from the skin.
And please don’t boil. Steaming is much healthier.

Just take 500g of parsnips and steam for five minutes.

Pop them in a baking tray with 4tbsp honey and 2tbsp of crushed mixed nuts (whatever you have). Season, and roast at 200c for 20 minutes.

One excellent way to make tasty, moist stuffing is to use some spare Christmas cake.

Simply crumble up a slice or two, add bacon, breadcrumbs and a few extras, and hey presto! — you’ve instantly got one of the easiest and most delicious stuffings you’re ever likely to make.

The boozy, fruity cake adds a sweet kick which will complement the turkey brilliantly.

This recipe is enough for eight. Saute a finely chopped onion, 1tsp of allspice and two crushed garlic gloves together until the onion is soft and transfer to a bowl.

Grill 300g bacon, chop into small pieces and add it.

Allow to cool slightly, then add 175g Christmas cake, crumbled (without icing or marzipan), 40g breadcrumbs, 50g suet and the juice and zest of half a lemon and orange.

Stir in an egg and 150g dried cherries or cranberries (if you have them). Mix well, put in a roasting tin and cook for 35 minutes at 180c.

Make a boozy trifle with a few slugs of a Christmas dessert wine (or sweet sherry at a push)

Christmas always began in our home when Mamma asked me to help make the first panettone of the season.

Today, you can pick up the Italian raisin bread in any local supermarket for barely more than the price of a box of boring sponge fingers, and it’s often given as a gift.

Can’t think what to do with it — and need an easy last-minute pud? Then make a boozy trifle with a few slugs of a Christmas dessert wine (or sweet sherry at a push).

First, boil 1ltr of dessert wine in a big saucepan, take off the heat and add eight leaves of gelatine, following the packet’s instructions and whisking until dissolved.

Peel eight clementines, divide into segments and then remove the skin from them (this is an easy, if slightly dreary job).

Tear 250g of panettone into cubes, place in a large trifle bowl, and pour over half the jelly liquid and leave in the fridge for an hour to set. Remove, and pour over the rest of the liquid and add a third of the clementine segments.

Leave to set in the fridge again for an hour. In a separate bowl, whip 500ml of double cream with 50g caster sugar to soft peaks.

Remove trifle dish from the fridge, layer over the rest of the segmented clementines, and then pour over a layer of ready-made custard (perhaps 500ml).

Spread the cream over the custard, being careful not to mix the layers. To finish, scatter over almonds or grated chocolate and dot with a few glace cherries.

Chill until ready to serve.


The rich red of beetroot goes together brilliantly with the pink salmon

Now, smoked salmon is so commonplace that it’s hard to make it seem special. This simple but stunning starter does the trick and is a much more modern option.

The rich red of beetroot goes together brilliantly with the pink salmon, adding an extra splash of suitably festive colour. Dice 80g dry bread, 10g capers, 10g cherry tomatoes, 10g red onions, 30g cucumber, 5g dill and four unpeeled beetroot into small pieces.

Combine with 40g olive oil and 10g vinegar, then shape into eight circular bases approximately 1cm thick and 5cm in diameter and put in the fridge.

Next, cut your smoked salmon into small thin strips, then spoon onto the bases in equal portions. Chill in the fridge for an hour.

Mix together 60g sour cream, 15g chives and 10g mustard to make a dressing to serve on the side. Garnish with dill. Your guests will be stunned.


Combine celeriac with sweet potato (or swede, if you prefer), add fresh sage and you have a Christmas concoction that takes the humble ingredients to a totally different level.

Clean and trim one celeriac and coat it with oil, then lie it on a large sheet of foil, with the root-side facing downwards.

Next, scatter with the herbs and season. Wrap tightly in the foil and roast for two hours or until tender.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the sweet potatoes on a medium heat for 15 minutes or until they are nice and tender. Drain and mash the sweet potatoes. Remove the celeriac from the oven and skin.

Scoop out the inside and add to the potatoes, mashing the two with butter until well combined. Season and serve.

The result of these simple tips will be a traditional Merry Christmas meal — with just a hint of that Mediterranean flavour!