Merry Christmas from Dining With the Saints



Lasagna for Christmas Day


Most Italians and Italian-Americans prepare a meatless meal, usually many fish courses, to celebrate La Vigilia, Christmas Eve. My family always made shrimp, calamari, clams, sea bass, and sometimes served caviar. It entailed a huge amount of preparation and we’d all be exhausted when it was over. The next day we’d get up early. My father would slice up a pannetone, make a pot of strong coffee, and we’d open presents. Then we’d all pile into the car and drive over to my grandmother’s house where she’s have a big antipasto plate already on the table. And then she’s bring out a beautiful ragu filled lasagna. This was pure heaven. The lasagna varied from year to year, but I was especially found of one she made with turkey and a creamy béchamel sauce. I never got her recipe but have come up with my own version. It’s pretty close in spirit to my grandmother’s but I’ve included fresh rosemary, an herb I don’t remember her using very much. She would have chosen fresh oregano or basil, but the rosemary gives it a real wintery aroma.

Merry Christmas to you.

Christmas Lasagna with Turkey and Rosemary

(Serves six as a main course)

 Extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup medium diced pancetta or guanciale

2 sweet Italian pork sausages, casings removed

1 1/2 pounds freshly ground turkey

A generous pinch of sugar

1 large onion, cut into small dice

1 carrot, cut into small dice

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves well chopped

1 fresh bay leaf

A few big scrapings of nutmeg

3 ground allspice


Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup dry white wine

½ cup turkey or chicken broth

1 35 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes, well chopped, with juice

½ cup of whole milk

For the besciamella:

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 fresh bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of sugar
⅛ teaspoon hot paprika (I used the Basque piment d’espelette)


1 pound of very thinly rolled fresh egg pasta, cut for lasagna, boiled until just tender

1 1/2 cups grated grana padano cheese

In a large casserole fitted with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, the butter and the pancetta and let the pancetta brown. Add the sausage and the turkey, and the pinch of sugar, mashing the meat up with a wooden spoon, and brown it lightly all over. This will probably take about 10 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, nutmeg, and allspice. Season everything with salt and black pepper and sauté until the vegetables are tender and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add the white wine and let it bubble until almost evaporated. Add the turkey or chicken broth and the tomatoes with their juice. Bring the sauce to a boil and then turn the heat down low, cover the casserole, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring it occasionally. Now add the milk and simmer for about 10 minutes longer. Turn off the heat and let the ragu sit and settle for about ½ hour. This will allow the flavors to blend and it’ll also make it easier for you to scoop excess fat from the surface. Check for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper, if needed.


To make the besciamella: Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, whisking it to blend it into the butter. Cook, while continuing to whisk, for about a minute, without letting the mix color. You’ll smell a sweet, lightly toasted flour aroma. Add all the milk, and continue whisking. Add all the seasonings, and continue cooking, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened. This will happen around the time it comes to a boil. When bubbles appear on the surface, turn the heat down a bit, and continue cooking for another minute or so or until the sauce is thick and very smooth.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In an approximately 8 x 12 inch baking dish, spoon out a thin layer of the ragu. Now put down a layer of the pasta sheets. Spoon on some beciamella, smoothing in out, and sprinkle on a thin layer of grated grana padano. Make another layer of ragu, another one of pasta sheets, more beciamella, and more grated cheese. Spoon of the remaining ragu, put down a last layer of pasta, finish up the beciamella, and then sprinkle on a light layer of grana padano. Give the top a little salt and pepper and a fresh drizzle of olive oil. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the oven up to 425 degrees and bake until the lasagna is bubbling and nicely browned on the top, about 15 minutes longer. Let it rest about 10 minutes before serving.

Erica DeMane is a writer and chef. Find her blog:

Painting: Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio

Novena for October

Guardian Angels

Feast Day: October 2

Most of the world’s religions agree on one thing: the presence of angels in our lives. The word “angel” comes from the Greek word angelos, which means” messenger.” All angels are messengers from God. If we pray to the saints because, having been human, they fully understand our shortcomings, we pray to the angels because they are pure in spirit and so call us to a higher level of being. Angels do not have human natures, and so their perspectives are totally different than ours. We turn to them to be reminded of the higher goal we share with them. It is said that the more we pray to the angels, the less the material and physical problems of the earth will seem to matter.

Angels, who exist at the very throne of God, are said to number in the thousands of millions. They are divided into three hierarchies. The first is the heavenly counselors, who are nearest to God: the seraphim, cherubim and thrones. They regulate the movement of light in the heavens as it emanates from God. The next hierarchy is the heavenly governors: the powers, virtues and dominions. These bear the conscience of all humanity, transmit divine energy, govern the activities of all the angelic orders, and integrate the spiritual and material world. The third hierarchy has direct contact with the earth and mankind: principalities, archangels and angels. From infancy until death, human life is enveloped by the watchful care and intercession of the guardian angels

It is believed that each one of us has his or her own guardian angel. These angels are always with us and are responsible for keeping us on the right path, helping us rise when we fall, encouraging us to become more and more virtuous, assisting us in death, and, most important of all, acting as intermediaries, offering our prayers and good actions to God. They do not see our physical actions as much as our spiritual actions. By praying to our guardian angels, we open up a channel to the divine grace. The angels have perfect knowledge, or wisdom, and this comes from their vision of God. They are said to be endowed with blessedness from gazing enraptured at God, and this blessedness makes them view all creations and all creatures as the beautiful perfection they really are. The more we communicate with our guardian angels, the more we become aware of our own blessedness and perfect beauty. Though angels have free will, because of this beatific existence there can be no temptation but to do God’s will.

The more we pray to the guardian angels, the more sensitive we become to their advice. Intuitive thoughts and feelings become more pronounced, and we no longer rely on judgmental thinking in our decision making. We become less fearful, more accepting, more in harmony with things. This is what it means to live in a state of grace. The angels are said to be beings of light. We lighten our lives and existence when we pray to them and with them.


Novena to Your Guardian Angel

Bless the Lord, all you his angels. You who are mighty in strength and do his will, intercede for me at the throne of God. By your unceasing watchfulness protect me in every danger of soul and body. Obtain for me the grace of final perseverance, so that after this life I may be admitted to your glorious company and with you may sing the praises of God for all eternity.

All you holy angels and archangels, thrones and dominions, principalities and powers and virtues of heaven, cherubim and seraphim, and especially you, my dear guardian angel, intercede for me and obtain for me the special favor I now ask. (Mention your request).


(Excerpted from the book “Novena: The Power of Prayer” by Barbara Calamari and Sandra DiPasqua.)


Alcoholism / Martin of Tours, 316–397,
Feast Day: November 11

Born into a Hungarian military family, Martin was named for Mars, the Roman god of war. As a soldier, he converted to Christianity and was elevated to the office of bishop by the people of Tours. It is said he could turn water into wine, and he died on the day when the new wine is traditionally tasted. Immensely popular for his charity, he is known as the “Thirteenth Apostle.”

Other patronages: geese, horses; cavalrymen, cloth merchants, innkeepers, potters, tanners, vine growers, vintners; beggars, oppressed people

Invoked: against poverty

Stroke / Andrew Avellino, 1521–1608,
Feast Day: November 10

An ecclesiastical lawyer, Andrew left the law and devoted himself to the priesthood when he caught himself lying during a trial. He was assigned to close a convent in Naples that had become a brothel. When he succeeded, the local men threatened his life. He traveled through Italy reforming other religious houses. He had an attack of apoplexy and died while saying mass.

Other patronages: Naples, Sicily

Invoked: against sudden death

Novenas for June

paul               SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE          

 First Century

             Saint Paul offers the greatest example of a life totally transformed in an instant by the intercession of divine grace. Once a zealous prosecutor devoted to hunting down and imprisoning Christians, his conversion was so extreme that it is commemorated by its own feast day, January 25.  Bitten by snakes, stoned by mobs, tortured and shipwrecked, Saint Paul was left for dead many times. He is known as the Great Apostle because of his unstoppable energy and the success of his missionary journeys. Told to preach to the heathen nations and the non-Jews, he is known as the doctor of the gentiles because he traveled throughout Greece and Asia Minor converting thousands. He is invoked for strength, patience and faith. His numerous writings and long sojourns make him the patron saint of journalists and public relations.

             Born a Roman citizen at Tarsus in Cilica, his given name was Saul. His father, a devout man, sent him to study under the famous rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. As a young man Paul was a model Pharisee, the most extreme of all the Jewish sects, and zealous in his pursuit and persecution of Christians. He firmly believed that the only way to preserve Jewish law was to wipe the Christians off the face of the earth. He was present at the stoning death of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. Ten months after Christ was crucified, Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians when he was blinded by light and fell from his horse. While on the ground a voice asked him, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” When Paul replied, “Who art thou Lord?”  The voice answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul was then told to continue to Damascus to await instructions. Paul spent the next three days unable to see or eat. It was during this time that he says he learned the Gospel. The entire teachings were infused in him. When he regained his vision on the fourth day,  he was baptized and changed his name from Saul, the name of a great king, to Paul, which means small as a sign of humility.

             Because of his reputation as a persecutor, Paul was at first mistrusted by the original apostles. After three years in Damascus,  his former allies in the synagogue were so incensed with his new preachings that he had to be lowered over the city walls in a basket in the dark of night to escape death.  When he returned to Jerusalem 12 years later he was arrested for creating chronic havoc and, because of his Roman citizenship, he was deported to Rome for a trial.  He survived shipwreck off Malta and was released in Rome. He then traveled to Spain and Ephesus and was arrested once again for his revolutionary preachings. He was brought back to Rome and beheaded in AD 67 in a place called Tre Fontane, Three Fountains, so named because it was said that Saint Paul’s head bounced three times when it was cut off and in each place it bounced, a fountain sprang from the earth. His body is buried in the basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.

 Feast Day: June 29, shared with Saint Peter

 Patronage: Evangelists,  Malta, Journalists, Public Relations

Invoked against: Snakebite

     Novena to Saint Paul

   O holy apostle who, with your teachings and with your charity, taught the entire world, look kindly upon us, your children and disciples.

 We expect everything from your prayers to the divine master and to Mary, queen of the apostles. Grant, O doctor of the gentiles, that we may live by faith, save ourselves by hope, and that charity alone reign in us. Obtain for us, O vessel of election, will correspondence to divine grace, so that it may always remain fruitful in us. Grant that we may ever better know you, love you and imitate you, that we may be living members of the Church, the mystical body of Jesus Christ. Raise up many and holy apostles. May the warm breath of true charity permeate the entire world. Grant that all may know and glorify God and the divine master, way and truth and life. Obtain for me the special favors I am asking during this novena. (Your request here).

Lord Jesus, you know we have no faith in our own powers; in your mercy grant that we may be defended against all adversity, through the powerful intercession of Saint Paul, our teacher and father.

Say this novena nine times in a row for nine days in a row.

Dining with the Saints

The Feast of San Domenico

st domenico

First Thursday in May, Cocullo, Abruzzo, Italy

The town of Cocullo, in Abruzzo, Italy, is noted for a religious feast in honor of Saint Dominic who drove snakes out of their village. Sweet, wreath-like breads shaped like snakes biting their own tails are made in his honor on his feast day. There is also an actual snake festival where residents of Cocullo search the woods for snakes, which are then wrapped around the necks of specially trained men called serpari (snakemen) who stroll around the festival grounds holding out the snakes for people to pet. The snakes are later let loose to return back to the woods.

This lemony spring lamb stew is one of the dishes often cooked up as part of the San Domenico Feast day offerings.

Agnello Brodettato

This dish is adapted from a recipe by Anne Bianchi, from her book Italian Festival Food.

Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup pancetta, cut into small cubes
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
½ cup of all-purpose flour
A generous pinch of ground nutmeg
A smaller pinch of ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 spring onion, cut into small dice, using some of the tender green stalk
2 young spring garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup dry Marsala
1 cup light meat broth or chicken broth
1 egg yolk
The grated zest and juice from 1 lemon
A handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, stemmed

In a large casserole fitted with a lid, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until it’s crisp. Coat the lamb pieces in flour, shaking off excess. Add them to the casserole and brown them all over, seasoning with the nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, and black pepper.

Add the onion and the garlic to the casserole and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the Marsala and let it boil for about 2 minutes. Add the broth. The liquid should almost cover the meat (if not, add more broth or a little water). Bring the liquid to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover the casserole, and simmer, until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours.

Remove the lamb from the casserole and place it in a large, shallow serving bowl. Cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Skim all the fat from the surface of the sauce. Whisk the egg yolk and lemon juice together in a small bowl and pour it into the casserole, whisking well over a very low heat just until the sauce gets creamy. Pull the casserole off the heat. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or black pepper if needed. Strain the sauce over the lamb. Garnish with the parsley and the lemon zest. Serve right away. Rice is a good accompaniment for this light stew.

Dining with the Saints is written by Erica De Mane (