A traditional Italian Christmas dinner
by Chiara Fiverri
We Italians look forward to Christmas, the most magical time of the year. That’s why we get into the Christmas spirit starting in November.
Who will we meet? What crockery will we use? Gifts? And the Christmas menu… To follow. A joyous family dinner was spent sitting at the table and toasting several times over several hours.
What do you eat for an Italian Christmas dinner? As you might expect, the food served at Christmas lunch varies from north to south. From the Alps to Sicily, Italy is full of typical dishes prepared for Christmas. The envied Italian gastronomic panorama reflects the heterogeneity of our territory. Each region and province boasts one or more typical recipes of the Christmas period, an expression of our country’s history and culinary culture.
Despite the differences, there is always something that unites us. Throughout Italy, for example, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a dinner usually based on fish. Christmas lunch is celebrated at the table with chicken broth the following day. The lavish banquet ends almost everywhere with dried fruit (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, etc.) and typical Christmas sweets. Cotechino and zampone with lentils, typical dishes of New Year’s Eve dinners, are consumed for their meaning of abundance and eating them on the night of the 31st ensures a rich and lucky year. This tradition has its roots in Ancient Rome, where it was customary to give a “Scarsella”, a leather bag tied to a belt containing lentils, with the hope that they would be transformed into many coins.
While Southern families prefer fish-based preparations due to the richness of the sea that bathes their lemon-scented coasts, Northern Italians mostly cook meat dishes.
The aperitif is usually consumed in the living room. Here, the table and almost every other available surface are covered with delicacies to eat with your fingers, including cured meats, olives, different types of bread, pizza and breadsticks, and an increasingly vast assortment of fine Italian cheeses.
An important rule to remember at this point is to stay calm because Christmas dinner is long, so you have to eat and drink slowly.
We open with an aperitif and relax. Now we can sit at the table full of Christmas spirit. Sit down and make yourself comfortable because Christmas dinner is now a reality:
It varies by region, but most Italians are used to serving stuffed eggs, Russian salad, shrimp cocktail, vitello tonnato and creative seafood dishes for Antipasto.
Naturally, an Italian classic comes first. It wouldn’t be an authentic Italian meal without a pasta dish. Having been lucky enough to watch our grandmothers prepare and pass down recipes since we passed the table, serving a plate of pasta at Christmas is a tribute to our thousand-year-old food culture, and we need to keep this tradition alive.
Indeed, few things in life are as specific as that of a Bolognese who will eat tortellini for Christmas or a Neapolitan who will twirl his fork around a plate of spaghetti with clams. Lasagna, timbale, and cannelloni are consumed equally throughout the country.
Roast meat becomes the protagonist for Christmas second courses: roast turkey, zampone or cotechino combined with lentils, which bring luck and prosperity, or, more wisely, accompanied by a selection of vegetables (in Italian, literally: to degrease).
Moving towards the bottom of the country, seafood dishes reign supreme on the Christmas table: prawns and prawns, fried fish with vegetables (and, honestly, anything else that can be fried in oil).
Born in Milan at the dawn of the 20th century, Panettone is a sweet bread like a cake filled with raisins and candied oranges; since then, it has unquestionably represented the Christmas dessert par excellence.
Its Veronese twin, the Pandoro, is a more delicate version without filling; it also stands out for its cooking procedures, yet a slew of creams, chocolate sauces and other mousses accompanies both.
In the South, struffoli are also served for dessert, balls of fried dough garnished with coloured sugar pralines, while Torrone is highly appreciated throughout Italy.
In Italy, anything goes when it comes to Christmas lunch, so could we treat ourselves to a coffee at the end of the meal?
At this point, you check the clock: you have noticed it is already time for dinner again…