TMC’s executive chef shares his take on traditional holiday feasts

jason-executive-chef-002For many of us, the best part of the holiday season is sharing a special meal with the people we love. Although the planning and preparation can be daunting, the payoff is well worth it.

Jason Ricciardelli, TMC executive chef and manager of retail and food operations is an expert at feeding a crowd, overseeing meals for roughly 3,000 patients, visitors and employees every day, as well as about 75 catering orders a month. Who better to give us a few tips for putting together a memorable meal?

Jason’s tips for successful holiday meal preparation:

  • “I can’t stress this enough: Have lots of foil – aluminum foil is what separates a successful holiday from a stressful one.”
  • “You have to rest your proteins. The turkey should come out of the oven, get covered with foil and left alone for about 30 to 45 minutes so that the juices can redistribute.”
  • “Plan ahead and do as much prep as possible – once that turkey comes out of the oven, everything else should be ready to go in.”
  • “Chafing dishes are the best way to serve a crowd. The best places to find them at a good price are actually Party City or the Dollar Store.”

Jason prepares two traditional holiday meals. The first? A late-night dinner before midnight mass in Mexico with his wife’s family. That is followed by an Italian tradition for his family, the Feast of Seven Fishes, here in Tucson.

The meal in Mexico is served as an Open House style buffet. His menu consists of a leg of pork, mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, a green salad and green beans or broccoli. The final touch is a “very easy berry cobbler that I can throw together on the fly.”

The Feast of Seven Fishes consists of linguine with white clams, calamari – in a salad or lightly fried, grilled shrimp, seared scallops, Baccala (salt cod), halibut with a simple lemon butter and grilled oysters. The seafood is served with a nice pasta – preferably Granoro from Naples, roasted broccolini with lemon and a simple salad of greens, cucumber, onion, tomato, oil and vinegar.


“The main dish for the holiday meal in Mexico varies between roasted leg of pork, traditionally prepared ham and turkey. It really depends on what I find – I arrive on December 23, so I only have one day to gather my ingredients.”

Pierna de Puerco (Roasted Leg of Pork)

1 (15 – 18 pound) pork leg
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup lime juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
20 garlic cloves, 10 whole, 10 minced
Roasting pan and rack

Trim any serious fat or thick skin off the roast
Score fat in an “X” pattern, about a 1/4 inch deep
Cut 10 small holes with paring knife evenly in roast, about 2 inches deep
Place whole garlic cloves in holes
Place pork in roasting pan
Combine all other ingredients in a separate bowl, except for salt
Pour over pork and refrigerate overnight, turning once
Remove pork from marinade and set aside
Place rack inside roasting pan
Rub pork with salt, working it into the meat
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Place pierna back on rack inside pan
Roast for roughly 4 1/2 hours, (17 min per pound), until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees
Remove, cover with foil, and let rest 30 – 40 minutes
Carve and enjoy

“Broccolini is not broccoli at all but a cross between broccoli and gai-lan or Chinese broccoli. I find it versatile, tasty and nutritious. Great holiday green!”

Roasted Broccolini
Serves 6

2 bunches broccolini, about 1 1/4 pound
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, halved
Cooking spray

Pre-heat oven to 475 degrees
Spray sheet pan with cooking spray
Arrange broccolini in a thin even layer
Season with salt and pepper
Roast for six minutes
Remove and add garlic
Roast another five minutes, the broccolini will be a bit charred, this is intentional
Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top
Serve warm or at room temperature

“I don’t consider myself much of a baker, but this one is easy and tasty, and you can dump vanilla ice cream on it. Any vehicle for ice cream is OK in my book.”

Berry Cobbler
Serves 6 – 8

4 cups fresh berries
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Spray the inside of an 8 x 8 glass or metal baking dish with the cooking spray
Sample berries and adjust sugar to taste
Arrange berries on the bottom
Sprinkle with lemon juice and stir to combine
Mix flour, sugar and egg in a separate bowl until a crumbly dough forms, sprinkle over berries
Melt butter, pour over evenly
Bake 35 minutes until crumble is browned and berry mix is bubbly
Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream if desired

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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