No one does food like Italians do, especially when the holiday season arrives. Their eating and drinking rituals go into hyper-drive with more wholesome deliciousness than one could ever imagine. These dishes are made with only the best ingredients but differ depending on the region in which they are crafted and enjoyed.
With that in mind, grab a fork and join us as we tour through Italy, in partnership with the Italian Trade Commission, to find out what’s cooking in Italian kitchens during the festive season.
La Vigilia (Christmas Eve)
According to tradition, dishes go meatless for Christmas Eve. Pasta, vegetables and fish (think salted cod, octopus and shellfish) play starring roles in a typical La Vigilia meal on Dec. 24. If you were in Rome, your appetizer would consist of pezzetti, a combination of fried cubes of vegetables (such as, squash, zucchini, potatoes and broccoli) and salt cod. In Naples, it would be a mix of sautéed broccoli and seafood.
No Italian meal would be complete without pasta. There’s no right or wrong way to eat it -- the only rule is that it should be made with quality ingredients. If you were visiting Naples, your pasta dish would likely be vermicelli with clams or mussels. In the north, your slice of lasagna would be covered in Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
Moving down the western-coast line, you will find the spectacular city of Amalfi, a favourite spot for many chefs around the world because of the variety and quality of the seafood. In this region, marinated fresh anchovies are served as appetizers, linguine pasta twirls around fresh clams, and baked eel (a mainstay on Italian dinner tables for Christmas Eve) is served with olives and capers.
For dessert, trays of biscotti cookies and various bite-sized pastries are served. But across the country, once the main courses have been enjoyed, boxes of Panettone or Pandoro will make an appearance. Panettone is a sweet, soft bread-like loaf which originated in Milan, while Pandoro is a sweet yeast bread from Verona. There’s also another variety, Panforte, a special cake from Siena containing fruits and nuts.
In Modena, tortellini will finish the meal. But this pocket of deliciousness isn’t savoury. Rather the Modenese variety are larger, deep fried and filled with custard or jam. In the city of Alba, locals will prefer the hometown favourite, nougat (torrone). Meanwhile, in Piemonte, Italian tables will serve apple mousse or hazelnut cake.
On the 25th, each region of Italy has a signature dish as part of their Christmas meal that can consist of as many as 13 courses. Many provinces start off their feasts with the classic Italian antipasto, featuring cured meats, olives and local cheeses.
Soups are also part of the picture. Campania has minestra maritata (or “married soup”) made with leafy-green vegetables like escarole and tiny veal meatballs. In Abruzzo, bordered by the Adriatic Sea, the base is cardoons (artichoke thistles) paired with giblets and flavoured with nutmeg.
When it comes to proteins, Le Marche region serves capon come dinnertime, but they also serve a meaty, lasagna-like dish called vincisgrassi, with ground beef, pancetta, chopped chicken giblets and prosciutto. Otherwise, it’s swordfish in Sicily, roasted lamb in Lazio and game meat in Tuscany. Craving red meat? Then your mouth will water over the Carbonade, a prime-cut of beef slow-cooked in red wine, typical in the northwestern region of Valle D’Aosta. In Piemonte, the local preference is for boiled ox.
Baked pastas make an appearance in central southern regions of Italy with the Sicilians joining in with their crusty baked maccheroni, cooked in a breadcrumb-lined pan. Northerners love the stuffed variety – cannelloni, ravioli, agnolotti and tortellini.
December 26 (Santo Stefano)
When the family comes over, it’s all about the leftovers on December 26! The perfect time to relax with good company.
If you’re trying to capture the flavours of Italy at home this holiday season, there’s only one sure-fire way to ensure success from your appetizers to your desserts. Use only authentic ingredients made in Italy from extra virgin olive oil to cheeses and anchovies. Want to make sure you’re stocking up with the real thing? Check out the Italian Trade Commission’s info-packed website: Italianmade.com