Alternative Christmas food inspiration, from pasta to panettone

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Jenny Tregoning
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From pasta to panettone, the growing trend for beige food means it’s all we’re craving right now.

Instagram has a lot to answer for. For every rainbow poké bowl and pomegranate-flecked salad, you’ll find a real world plate of beige food that never gets the love it deserves. But things are changing. Beige is all the rage

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Pasta is having a moment, with thick pici noodles and plump ravioli gracing our plates and social feeds, while panettone is fast becoming our favourite festive treat. Because, let’s face it, some of the tastiest food is beige. Pasta, pastry, bread. And they are possibly the only things that will satisfy us as we slip deeper into winter. The fashion world was right all along: beige is back.

Book a festive pasta dinner

If you know your cacio e pepe from your burro e salvia, here are the newest restaurants to savour Italy’s finest exports.

Sugo, Glasgow

Chitarra with confit tomato is 2019's pasta al l'arrabiata.

This pasta restaurant is the freshest of the lot, having opened last week in Glasgow’s 19th-century Herald building. From the team behind Paesano Pizza, which is rated among the top 10 pizzerias in Europe, Sugo focuses on regional pasta dishes, from Lombardy and Tuscany to Puglia and Sicily – think squid ink spaghetti with baby squid ragu and lemon pangrattato. There’s an open kitchen to watch the homemade pasta being rolled, but Sugo doesn’t take bookings, so get there early to bag yourself a prime spot in this vast, 200-cover pasta mecca.

Sugo Pasta Kitchen, Manchester 

'Cavatelli' is Italian for get in my belly (maybe).

Nothing to do with Sugo in Glasgow (‘sugo’ is Italian for sauce), this pasta restaurant changed the game for carb fans in Manchester with its informal vibe and mouth-watering Puglian dishes. Fresh orecchiette and strozzapreti arrive from Italy each week, paired with ingredients such as pancetta and burrata, alongside a quaffable wine list.

Legna, Birmingham 

If stripped-back interiors aren’t your thing, enter Legna: a showstopper restaurant with luxurious dark wood and a canopy of white apple blossom. It’s run by Saturday Kitchen chef Aktar Islam, so expect modern twists on Italian classics, such as pappardelle with beef and wild boar ragu and smoked potato ravioli. Get there early for a spritz at the stunning central bar.

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Bancone, London

Never have silk handkerchiefs been so appealing.

You’ll probably know Bancone for the silk handkerchiefs that dominated Instagram feeds this year – folded sheets of pasta drenched in walnut butter, topped with an egg yolk (it’s as good as it sounds). Perhaps even better is the pork and n’duja ragu with ribbons of mafalde. Following the success of its first site, a second opens in Soho this week, so more of us can have our fill. 

Sarto, Leeds

Parmesan? When has the answer ever been no.

New to Leeds and already winning loyal fans, Sarto is the kind of low-key, communal tables-and-handmade-pasta spot the city has been crying out for. In Munro House, with a lo-fi hip-hop soundtrack, the menu is small but perfectly formed, with seven pasta options, two of which are vegan. Try the fettuccine with wild mushrooms and marsala cream or the rigatoni with lamb shoulder in red wine.

Lina Stores, London

Pumpkin ravioli with hazlenuts, butter and sage: so hungry.

Lina Stores deli in Soho has been bringing London the finest Italian produce for over 75 years. Now it has spread its pistachio-and-whitestriped wings, opening the biggest (and most gorgeous) site yet near Granary Square in King’s Cross. Nab a seat at the counter and watch the chefs prepare fluffy ricotta agnolotti topped with freshly shaved truffle and pansotti with jammy San Marzano tomatoes, both of which should be high on your list. And, the adjoining deli (with exquisitely wrapped panettone garlanded from the ceiling) is ideal for last-minute Christmas gifts.

Serve up the tastiest Middle Eastern party food

Breaded prawns, brie and cranberry parcels, mini mince pies… all the best festive canapes are beige. But with a glut of new Middle Eastern restaurants opening, including Arabica and Bubala in London, the food of the region is taking centrestage once again.

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And while you might think of ruby-red pomegranate seeds and green herbs speckling salads, there’s also a lot of delicious beige fare that is up there, from flatbreads to hummus to pastries. So we asked Honey & Smoke founders Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich to share their tips for putting a new spin on your festive spread.

Incorporate on-trend ingredients 

“Sesame and tahini are integral to our cooking but are ingredients that seem to be getting a lot of love this year. We make little tahini and lemon cookies which are rolled in sesame seeds and serve dips such as hummus. We also make borekita pastries, which are filled with spinach and feta, and spiced butternut squash phylas [snailshaped pastries].” 

Swap mince pies for almond marzipan.

Make life easy for yourself

“Prepare as much as you can in advance and make things that you know and enjoy cooking – slow Honey & Smoke, Great Portland Street, London W1; ruby-red pomegranate seeds and green herbs speckling salads, there’s also a lot of delicious beige fare that is up there, from flatbreads to hummus to pastries. 

Don’t forget dessert

“Everyone likes something sweet to finish the evening. Almond marzipan is simple to make. Soak 200g of whole almonds in boiling water for 10 minutes, peel, dry then blitz with 200g icing sugar, zest of half an orange and 1 tsp orange blossom water. Knead until smooth then divide into 10 balls and top with another almond.”

How panettone stole our hearts

Christmas pudding is out; panettone is in. Pick your flavour, from Aperol to caramel.

If the Stylist office is anything to go by, it’s not the arrival of the first mince pie that signals the start of the festive season and gets us cranking up Mariah on the radio. No, it’s panettone.

Heads swivel, a chorus of ‘oohs’ rises from behind computer screens and fists grab for chunks of that angel-light dough. And, while Excitable Edgar from the John Lewis advert might be championing the Christmas pudding, the numbers confirm we are turning away from tradition in our droves.

At Selfridges, panettone outsells the classic pud by two to one. The yeast-leavened Italian cake might have been around since the 15th century, but only in recent years has it been truly embraced in the UK. Perhaps it’s because, as tastes change, we’d prefer something airy rather than dense post-turkey – the kind of cake you can slice up and eat with a cup of tea and Gavin And Stacey without falling into an instant food coma. Whatever the reason, panettone has cemented its place in our hearts and is now as much a part of the modern festive spread as a tin of Quality Street.

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It’s not just the traditional candied fruit flavours that have been popping up on shelves either. Selfridges is renowned for its bold panettone fillings (see 2018’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup special) but the salted caramel variety (£25.99) remains a bestseller. Heston Blumenthal has created a black forest flavour for Waitrose (£14), while Lakeland sells a version that, just like us by the end of Christmas Day, is drenched in gin (£17.99).

If you prefer your alcohol infusion to be of the more Italian persuasion, Carluccio’s has the answer: an Aperol-flavoured loaf (£19.95). Or for the ultimate in luxury, head to Prada-owned bakery Marchesi 1824 in Mayfair for a candied chestnut flavour (from £30). Vegans needn’t miss out either, thanks to egg and dairy-free options such as Mindful Bites Veganettone at Ocado (£14.99). Sorry Edgar, but it seems even an adorable animated dragon can’t halt the unstoppable march of the panettone.

All hail the vegan cheeses

It’s a Christmas essential, but what do you do if you’re catering to dairy-free guests? Stylist tries three vegan cheese alternatives.

Just because you’re following a plant-based diet, that doesn’t mean you need to miss out on one of the best bits of Christmas: cheese. According to Whole Foods Market, nearly a quarter of millennials have already tried vegan cheese and 25% will be opting for a meat-free Christmas. The choice of options has rocketed in the past year so the Stylist team put three alternatives to the test. And yes, while cartoons might tell us all cheese is yellow, these are definitely on the beige spectrum.

The Camembert dupe

No cheese board is complete without camembert.

New Roots Camembert Soft Cheeze, £7.99, Whole Foods Market An award-winning vegan cheese, this is fermented and ripened just like its dairy equivalent but using raw cashew milk. Picture editor Alessia Armenise says, “It looks very similar in appearance and texture, especially the ‘mould’. The taste is not bad but it’s not as creamy.”

The parmesan double

Say cheese!

Free From Cheddar-Style Cheese Alternative, £2, Ocado A blend of coconut oil and starches, this is about as close to the real deal as you can get. Sub-editor Meena Alexander says, “It looks and smells very much like cheddar, and despite a coconutty aftertaste, it goes down a treat with a tangy chutney.”

The parmesan double

This parmesan is made from coconut oil.

Violife Prosociano, £3.50, Sainsbury’s Violife has created vegan alternatives for everything from mozzarella to feta. This parmesan-style is made from coconut oil. Executive digital editor Felicity Thistlethwaite says, “As a hardened cheese eater, I admit the taste was surprisingly nice. Not too strong and it crumbled well when chopped.”

Photography: Dennis Pederson, Getty Images, Whole Foods Market 


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Jenny Tregoning

Jenny Tregoning is deputy production editor and food editor at Stylist, where she combines her love of grammar with lusting over images of food

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