What do Italians eat on Christmas? Each region has its own traditional foods for Christmas dinner: the cuisine reflects the characteristics and flavors of the local environment. The only thing that Italians everywhere have in common is that the festivity itself always brings Italian families together around a well-laden table. The list of typical dishes is long and the regional diversity epitomizes the richness of Italian culture. Although culinary traditions are just as subject to change as any other aspect of culture, at Christmas the table boasts typical regional dishes, prepared just the way Nonna used to make. We thought we would give you suggestions for different Christmas dishes from each region of the country. Here is a gourmet tour through holiday recipe suggestions from Italy. Rather than providing a recipe for all 20 selections, we instead give a short description of each.
In addition to the extensive antipasti, certain traditional favorites are expected to be on hand before the first course is served.
Tuscany – Crostini ai Fegatini (Chicken Liver on Toast): This regal chicken liver spread uses capers and anchovies on slices of bread, preferably stale and softened with broth.
Soup is frequently the first course and as you can see from our selections, from the very north of Italy in Trentino Alto Adige, down to Campania, delicious soups are a traditional way to begin the Cena.
Abruzzo – Minestra di Cardi (Cardoon Soup): This unusual soup is a broth with cardoons flavored with nutmeg and giblets.
Campania – Minestra Maritata (“Married” Soup): Eggs are beaten with hot pepper and bits of veal, which are then added to a base of chicory and escarole in a capon broth. Try this recipe; Nonna would be proud.
Emilia Romagna – Tortellini al Brodo (Tortellini in Broth): This recipe is a must in every Italian kitchen. Homemade egg-pasta is rolled paper-thin to wrap up little bits of meat-based filling, cooked and served in hot broth.
Trentino Alto Adige – Canederli (Dumplings): Bread dumplings made with a variety of ingredients, typically served in soup with melted butter or meat sauce. It is a very versatile and delicious dish.
Umbria – Cappelletti Ripieni (Stuffed Pasta Soup): In this holiday favorite, both the broth and the pasta filling are made with capon.
Calabria – Scillatelle al Ragù (Homemade Pasta with Meat Sauce): This dish uses a handmade pasta (also known as fileja) that is usually served with a pork-based sauce.
Marche – Vincisgrassi (Marche Lasagna): This grand lasagna is made with ground beef, sausage, chopped chicken, cured prosciutto ham and sometimes mushrooms. Impress your guests and family with this outstanding baked dish.
Sardinia – Culurgiones de Casa (Home-style Ravioli): In this traditional recipe, the ravioli are stuffed with fresh sheep cheese, chard, nutmeg and saffron. It creates a wonderful blend of savory, with just a hint of sweetness.
Sicily – Timballo di Pasta al Forno in Crosta (Crusty Baked Pasta): The macaroni in this dish is combined with a pork sauce and then baked in a breadcrumb-lined pan.
Even after the Christmas Eve feast, fish still figures prominently in some regions on Christmas day. Not surprising, though, these are regions that are on the coast where seafood recipes are a way of life.
Basilicata – Baccalà con Peperoni Cruschi (Cod with Fried Peppers): Sun-dried bell peppers are dropped into hot oil for a few seconds and then added on top of the cod.
Liguria – Cappon Magro (Fast-Day Capon): Despite its name, this elaborate Genoese salad of seafood and vegetables contains no meat. The ingredients are arranged into a decorative pyramid and dressed with a rich sauce. It is an ancient and traditional recipe.
Molise – Baccala Arracanato (Breaded Cod): Simple, traditional and delicious. Breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, oregano, raisins, pine nuts and walnuts enhance this cod recipe.
Puglia – Capitone alla Brace (Grilled Eel): Eel is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in Italy. It is nutritious and delicious. The eel is usually purchased live and kept in the fridge until it’s time to cook it. Grilling the eel eliminates the excess fat, while still keeping the meat moist and tender.
Veneto – Polenta e Baccalà (Cod with Creamed Polenta): The cod is boiled to cook and reduce the amount of salt and is served with a creamy polenta. Tomatoes are often added for color and texture.
MEAT and POULTRY
Friuli Venezia Giulia – Brovada e Muset (Turnips and Sausage): This traditional dish is made with pickled turnips and a special cooked pork sausage, betraying the Alpine roots of this hearty holiday recipe.
Lazio – Abbacchio al Forno con Patate (Roasted Lamb and Potatoes): In many parts of Italy, lamb is the choice for the Easter roast. In Lazio, they like lamb roast for every special occasion. The lamb is braised with garlic, rosemary, vinegar and also anchovies.
Lombardia – Cappone Ripieno (Stuffed Capon): The traditional stuffed capon is filled with ground meat, egg, Parmigiano cheese and mortadella. To complement the flavors, it is served with mostarda di Cremona, a spicy candied fruit condiment.
Piemonte – Bue Bollito di Carrà o Moncalvo (Boiled Ox Tail): Boiled ox is one of those dishes that people either turn up their noses or would march through snow to enjoy. There seems to be no in between. In the Piedmont style, the ox tail is served with typical local green and red bagnetto sauces.
Valle D’Aosta – Carbonata (Beef in Red Wine): In the far north, strips of meat are marinated in red wine and herbs sautéed with cured pork fat (lardo) for the holiday.
In addition to the numerous courses of the Cena, the day will finish with an abundance of desserts. Hopefully you have been saving Marion’s recipes from the last few weeks for the sweets (Hint: try making the fig cookies).