The holiday season has arrived, and so has Old Man Winter. With our lovely, extended autumn, I’d almost forgotten that we reside on the northern edge of our country, and the recent drop in temperature was a cool reminder. It’s time to nestle in, celebrate the season, sing some carols and get cozy with hot winter drinks like Norwegian Gløgg and Italian Hot Chocolate.
Back in our cruise ship days, we had the amazing experience of spending a full season in both the Norwegian High Arctic and Antarctica. We visited these remote polar locales during their summertime, when the days and nights were filled with sunshine and abundant wildlife, and the average temperatures hovered around 30 degrees.
Our passengers would don their special red parkas to spend hours exploring the region on long hikes or zodiac (inflatable boat) cruises, searching for wildlife and interesting land or ice formations with the experts on our expedition team. As the cruise director, I was also a certified zodiac driver, and my job actually required me to explore these destinations.
Every time we would return from the day’s adventure, my hotel manager-husband, Tony, and his hotel crew would meet us and our guests at the landing station with steaming mugs of hot Norwegian gløgg or hot chocolate. The response from our guests was always the same: utter delight at this lovely gesture of warmth and hospitality.
Norwegian gløgg is a mulled wine traditionally made with red wine, orange peel, spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, whole cloves and ginger. Some recipes also include brandy, vodka or aquavit. Port wine can also be used, either alone as the main wine ingredient, or mixed with red wine, so if you have it on hand, add a cup or two.
You can use any kind of red wine to make gløgg, which the ever-thrifty Norwegians originally made by using red wine that was well past its serve-by date. On the ship, we would serve it with raisins soaked in brandy, and slices of toasted almonds, and we would also offer a non-alcoholic version made with apple cider instead of red wine.
Mulled wine isn’t unique to Norway, and variations can be found throughout Scandinavian and northern European cultures. But my roots are Norwegian, so my preferred version will always be gløgg, and even Tony, with his Sicilian background, has been known to enjoy a mug or two. Making gløgg is an easy task that will leave your house smelling warm and delicious, and can be done a day in advance and reheated before serving.
I love to celebrate our family’s heritage, especially at the holidays, and if I’m sharing a Norwegian recipe, it’s only fair to include an Italian one, too.
Italian hot chocolate, or cioccolata calda as it’s known in Italy, is rich and creamy and much thicker than most American versions. It is typically made with bittersweet chocolate, which I love, but when making it for Gio I use semisweet chocolate.
Some recipes call for whole milk, but I prefer to use a combination of heavy cream and 2 percent milk. Cornstarch is the secret ingredient that gives this cocoa its signature thickness, setting it apart from all other hot cocoas. It is excellent with a splash of hot coffee or espresso, and even better with a dash of Frangelico or Amaretto liqueurs, or the classic Peppermint Schnapps.
So throw another log on the fire or venture out for an evening of caroling, and embrace the winter season with these warm and comforting hot drinks.
1 cup white sugar
1½ cups water
2 bottles dry red wine (pinot noir, merlot, beaujolais, malbec)
1½ cups brandy, aquavit or vodka (optional)
Peel from one orange
2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
6 whole cloves
6 whole cardamom seeds, crushed
1 small piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half
¾ cup dark raisins soaked in 1 cup brandy or aquavit
½ cup blanched almonds
Soak the raisins in brandy or aquavit for 30 minutes before serving. Cover and store at room temperature until ready to use.
In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, combine the sugar and water, stirring until sugar has completely dissolved.
Add the remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium and bring mixture to a gentle boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for at least an hour, or even overnight for better results. Strain and reheat before serving. Serve hot.
Garnish with a sprinkling of soaked raisins and blanched almonds.
A light, dry red wine is best for this drink, so avoid sweet wines like white zinfandel or more robust wines like cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel.
When peeling the orange, be careful to avoid the white pith, which will create a bitter taste.
Making gløgg is not an exact science, and these measurements are based on our personal preferences. Play with the recipe to achieve your desired flavor.
Italian hot chocolate
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup whole or 2 percent milk
2 tablespoons sugar (adjust as desired)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Combine the milk and cream before using.
In a sauce pot over low heat, combine the chocolate with a splash of milk/cream mixture and stir until melted. In a slow, steady stream, add the remaining milk/cream, stirring constantly until well combined.
Add the sugar and mix to combine; taste and add more if desired. Whisk in the cornstarch and continue cooking over low heat, stirring often, until the chocolate become creamy and thick enough to heavily coat the back of a spoon, at least 5 to 8 minutes.
Serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings or marshmallows.
Italian hot chocolate is thick, rich and decadent and especially nice when served in small portions.
Children often prefer semi-sweet chocolate.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com and their blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.