Christmas a la Italiana The countdown to Christmas has already started, and though gift lists may just be germinating, it's not really too early to start thinking about wonderful meals and parties for this millennial Yuletide season. Mario Batali, the Molto Mario of Food Network fame and acclaimed chef/owner of four notable restaurants favored by New York's foodie elite, has put on his gastronomic thinking cap and focused on the fabulous food that makes Italian Christmas fare among the fairest of them all. The delightful result is Mario Batali Holiday Food: Recipes for the Most Festive Time of the Year, studded with luscious full-color photographs of the tantalizing treats that await enterprising cooks and their lucky guests. Inspired in part by a recent trip he took to the Amalfi Coast, Mario offers four complete menus, Christmas Eve and the Feast of the Seven fishes, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day with a total of 60 recipes. Some are elaborately elegant like the famed, dome-shaped pasta creation called Timpano di Maccheroni or the boned breast of turkey stuffed with chestnuts and prunes (splendid on any Thanksgiving table too); some are more familial like the traditional Cotechino Sausage with Lentils, or Spicy Spaghetti with Mussels. These are big meals and this is serious eating. So, if you're not blessed with an extended family or friends willing to be your kitchen slaves, you might want to pick and choose among the glories or simply soak up Mario's Italian enthusiasm for the holiday season and the fabulous feasts that go with it.

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