By Anna Paola Snaidero, VP of Public Relations, Snaidero USA
When the Christmas holidays roll around, the kitchen takes front and center in homes all over Italy…even more so than usual. It is probably fair to say that Italians spend half of the holidays in the kitchen and sitting at the dining table! Our meals stretch for hours at a time and are paced to include several courses.
The Italian Christmas dinner menu varies from region to region, with some similarities but also lots of unique dishes. To honor culinary traditions all over Italy, we have put together a Christmas feast with one dish from each region to satisfy any taste. Enjoy a little piece of these great Made-in-Italy foods!
Italian-Style Appetizers for Your Christmas Dinner
From Sicilia: Insalata di Aringhe e Arance
The salad of herring and red oranges was traditionally a poor man’s dish in Sicilia, as oranges can be found in abundance in the region and herring is a fish that can be purchased at a reasonable price. The strong flavor of the herring is softened by the sweetness of the oranges and by dipping the fish in milk.
From Puglia: Focaccia Pugliese
This tasty thick focaccia has the dough made with potatoes and then garnished with cherry tomatoes, oregano and black olives (if desired). It is better served warm.
First Courses for Your Italian Christmas Dinner
From Abruzzo: Minestra di Cardi
The Cardoon soup is a tradition on Christmas tables in Abruzzo, even though the cardoon is a vegetable that comes mainly from the Piemonte region. Similar to celery in look and to artichoke in taste, the cardoon is a light, low-calorie ingredient that manages to fill you up fast. The broth for the soup is prepared using a mix of different meats and vegetables.
From Campania: Minestra Maritata
The so-called “Married Soup” (or “Wedding Soup”) takes its name from the successful marriage of meat and vegetables that is the staple of this rich, flavorful dish. The traditional recipe includes dark winter veggies that are typical of Italy, like chicory shoots, borage and prickly lettuce, along with sausage and pork meat.
Here is a version of the recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/minestra-maritata
From Piemonte: Risotto al Barolo
This rich risotto dish uses one of Piemonte’s most famous red wines, Barolo. The traditional recipe includes beef marrow, vegetable broth and – perhaps most importantly – Arborio rice, whose consistency is better suited for the dish. Recipe: http://www.classicpasta.com/risotto_al_Barola.htm
From Umbria: Maccheroni con Miele e Noci
This is a sweet pasta dish for those who don’t watch their caloric intake during the holidays! The maccheroni pasta is served cold with a sauce made with honey, walnuts and breadcrumbs. Recipe: http://www.homefood.it/en/ricette/natale-in-umbria-i-maccheroni-con-miele-e-noci
From Basilicata: Strascinari al Ragù di Carne Mista
Homemade pasta served with mixed meat sauce. The pasta used in the recipe is called “strascinari” because of the way it is rolled and pressed by hand.
Second Courses for Your Italian Christmas Dinner
From Emilia Romagna: Bollito misto
The mixed boiled meats dish is prepared in many regions of Italy in different ways. In Emilia Romagna, for Christmas, the recipe includes cuts of beef, hen, and pork sausage paired with beans, mashed potatoes and mustard. Recipe: http://memoriediangelina.com/2014/01/19/il-gran-bollito-misto-mixed-boiled-meats/
From Veneto: Salsa di Cren
To accompany the mixed boiled meats dish, you can also serve the Cren (horseradish) sauce that comes from the Veneto region and is used specifically for such a purpose. A curious ingredient included in this sauce? Sugar!
From Toscana: Carpaccio al Tartufo
Tuscan Christmas tables are likely to see beef carpaccio prepared with Parmesan cheese, white truffles, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon.
From Friuli Venezia-Giulia: Brovada e Muset con Polenta
This dish features ingredients that are typical – and almost unique – of the Friuli region. Muset is a kind of “cotechino”: pork sausage made using several parts of the animal, including the snout, and aromatic herbs. The meat is served with polenta and brovada, white turnips macerated for a month in marc from red grapes. The turnips are usually cooked using robust red wine, like Friuli’s own Refosco.
From Molise: Baccalà Arracanato
This salted codfish dish is prepared with garlic, parsley, oregano, pine nuts, walnuts, bread crumbs and raisins.
From Calabria: Stoccafisso con la ‘Ghiotta
Just like Molise, Calabria puts codfish on its Christmas table. However, its recipe features dried codfish accompanied by ‘ghiotta, a sauce made with olive oil, onions, tomatoes, olives, capers, and raisins.
From Lazio: Carciofi alla romana
The Roman-style artichokes are made by removing the hard leaves and thorns and leaving just a part of the stem. The heart is removed and replaced with a stuffing of parsley, “mentuccia” (a kind of mint), garlic, salt and pepper. The artichokes are then braised in water and white wine and served warm. Recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/artichokes-roman-style-carciofi-alla-romana-recipe.html
Italian Christmas Desserts
From Liguria: Pandolce
At first glance, Pandolce might look like a not-as-tall version of Panettone but the two have substantial differences. For example, the Panettone dough includes eggs, which are not part of the preparation of Pandolce. Panettone has raisins and candied oranges, while Pandolce features a richer mix of not only raisins but also pine nuts and a wider variety of candied fruit.
There are two types of Pandolce: one a bit taller and softer, which uses traditional yeast to rise, and another more compact and crumbly, which uses a type of chemical yeast that doesn’t make the dough rise.
From Lombardia: Sbrisolona
This tart, whose tradition started around the 16th century among peasant families, is named after its characteristic crumbly texture. It used to also be called “the tart of three cups”, as it was once made using a cup of cornmeal, a cup of wheat flour and a cup of sugar. Recipe: http://www.academiabarilla.com/italian-recipes/step-step-recipes/sbrisolona-traditional-crunchy-tart.aspx
From Marche: Frustingo
This is a dessert traditionally prepared by the poor using white and brown flour, rhum, cocoa powder, walnuts, almonds, raisins, candied fruit and dried figs. Recipe: http://www.picenos.com/en/blog/frustingo-or-fristingo.html
From Sardegna: Gueffus
Gueffus – also known as “Sospiri” (“Whispers”) – are balls of dough made with almond flour, sugar, lemon and orange flower water.
After the Meal or Between Meals
From Valle d’Aosta: Caffe’ alla Valdostana served in the Friendship Cup
This traditional coffee drink is ideal to create a convivial atmosphere and accompany downtime after a day spent on the ski slopes. It includes lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, grappa and genepy (a liquor). The ritual dictates that you must enjoy it in good company, taking turns, all drinking from the same cup featuring several spouts.
From Trentino Alto Adige: Vin Brule’
Trentino is another mountain region featuring a strong, heart-warming drink. Vin brûlé is mulled spiced wine enriched with citrus fruit and sugar and served hot. It is also a remedy for the cold! Recipe: http://italianfood.about.com/od/aperitifscoffee/r/vinbrule.htm
I hope these eclectic suggestions for an Italian Christmas dinner put you in the mood to try some new recipes this holiday season and have fun experimenting in the kitchen!