An entire Christmas Eve dinner prepared in advance, frozen and reheated just hours before Santa is scheduled to arrive: It sounds like some kind of "Mad Men" ad campaign for Frigidaire, but in fact was a plan I hatched after the grueling last-minute race I ran to get hot appetizers, a salad, a turkey, several side dishes and a warm apple crisp on the table for Thanksgiving.
Here is the menu I have devised so I can sip Champagne as my main course warms in the oven and my dessert thaws on the countertop.
I'll start off the evening with Parmesan biscuits -- sliced from logs of savory dough I mixed, shaped, wrapped and froze in November. An hour or two before cocktails, I'll heat the oven, slice the defrosted dough and bake the treats and serve them. While the oven heats, I'll pull some frozen cooked shrimp from the freezer, defrost them under cold running water in a colander in the sink, then place them in a bowl over ice alongside some horseradish-enhanced cocktail sauce for dipping.
The first course: easy-to-serve soup, a porcini mushroom and chestnut soup I made a while back. After cooking and pureeing the soup, I poured it into an airtight container and, yes, froze it. All I'll need to do before serving is defrost it, reheat it and garnish each portion with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of parsley. Sliced, reheated loaves of olive and rosemary bread from my favorite artisanal bakery will be a perfect accompaniment.
Crowd-pleasing, crowd-friendly spinach and sausage lasagna is the main course. Its vibrant red, green and white ingredients will be so pretty on the plates. It, too, is waiting for me in the freezer.
I'm still mulling over several dessert options. There's cheesecake, which freezes beautifully. But my meal is already pretty heavy on the cheese. A flourless chocolate cake freezes just as well and may be a better match. Or I could make an Amaretto mousse terrine or individual tortoni semifreddi. Whatever I choose, I am secure in the knowledge that it will be made and frozen at least a week in advance, so I have time to spare for last-minute shopping, gift-wrapping and hot chocolate drinking in the days leading up to the holiday.
Christmas Eve Spinach and Sausage Lasagna
Once you've assembled the lasagna, wrap the baking dish in a double layer of plastic wrap and then in a layer of heavy-duty foil to prevent freezer burn. Well-wrapped, it will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months. I recommend baking it directly from the freezer. Almost two hours of baking time gives the flavors a chance to come together while the noodles hydrate and the cheese melts and bubbles. Let it sit for 15 minutes before slicing. Serves 8.
For the Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
For the filling:
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess liquid
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese