The Italian Christmas is the best no doubt! Of course, we might be somewhat one-sided, yet the Christmas season is eagerly awaited as one of Italy’s most praised occasions. Natale is an amazing event to cook some recipes loves by the family, to eat with loved ones and to be cheerful, obviously.
Italy is the cradle of Christianity, and this makes all that concerns the religious celebrations a dramatically serious matter.
Christmas is no exception in this sense; quite the opposite, it’s a continuous source of concerns for those who are busy organizing the perfect celebration, respecting all the liturgies and the rituals of this festivity. And since Italy is the homeland of good food and good cooking as well, even the Christmas meals – especially the December 24 dinner and the Christmas lunch – have to stick to a strict tradition.
Menus of Christmas
It is difficult to state what Italians eat at Christmas on the bases that each area has its very own Christmas items and recipes, each with an important role during the feast. Besides, the menu is different not because of the area but also due to when this auspicious event will be celebrated.
Try not to stress! Natale is consistently on 25 December, however there a slide difference between two Italian traditions of celebration. In the north, mostly the celebration of Christmas is at lunch on 25 December while, in the south, on Christmas Eve the celebrated at the dinner. Some of the time individuals celebrate both days.
Christmas Day lunch can be for many hours. In contrast to Christmas Eve’s dinner, Christmas Day is ordinarily meat-based. The most delicious appetizer spread is for starters. After that, the first course is pasta which is different for different places. Baked pasta is a must in Central and Southern Italy. Last but not least is the main course which is any kind of meat. Baked chicken, sausages or beef are common Natale main meals.
Christmas Eve Dinner
It can be said that an Italian Christmas Eve is an unforgettable night, one loaded up with family, fun and delicious feast all the way. Those of you who are Italian, you will understand this and read it with the joy of remembering your own Christmas Eve. And some of you who have not yet enjoyed an Italian Christmas Eve, here is a look into famous Italian Natale eve.
Fish is all you can have on an Italian Christmas eve’s dinner. The Seven Fishes feast started as a southern Italian tradition to respect the birth of Jesus at midnight. Different people have different beliefs. Some say that the seven fishes are served to show the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, others say they respect the seven days it took God to make the world. Seven is additionally the number of days it took for Joseph and Mary to venture out to Bethlehem.
Let’s see what it’s all about, focusing on the Christmas Eve’s dinner, maybe the most important meal of the period alongside with the December 31 one: just think that in Italy both of them are called “cenone”, literally “big dinner”.
First of all, a proper Christmas Eve’s dinner has to be shared with your family, suggests this website, which also proposes some great Christmas and Italian dishes. And by the family, we don’t mean a single unit (generally father, mother and sons): it’s a widely broader concept that includes grandparents, uncles, and even the most remote relatives. Secondarily, it has to be huge: an enhanced number of courses and big portions are almost mandatory. So, if you are planning to spend your Christmas holidays in Italy, and you want to experience an authentic Italian cenone, now you know what to expect. For more hints and details, read the following lines.
- Usually, a proper one is preceded by a series of starters. And since the 24th dinner is predominantly a fish-based meal, they are no exception. A shrimp cocktail and a series of shellfish au gratin (mostly mussels and scallops) could be served, along with croutons garnished with different homemade creams (for example legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas) or just some olive oil drops, finely chopped fresh tomatoes and an anchovy.
- First course. The most usual and traditional dish, in this case, is a rich fish soup. The original one could include even more than 20 different fish, shellfish and crustaceans species, slowly cooked with a generous amount of tomato sauce, herbs and spices. After all, the best fish is caught in winter. Caution: if you think that it’s just fish, thus it shouldn’t be heavy to eat, it’s just because you’re not aware of the portions’ volume.
- Second course. The bollito misto, a series of variously seasoned mixed boiled meats, is compulsory in North Italy (especially in Piedmont), but during the 20th Century, it has become a tradition all over the peninsula. It could be alternated with a veal cooked in the oven with chopped potatoes, and accompanied with a potato gateau.
- Side dishes. The octopus salad with potatoes is another essential for Christmas Eve dinner, alongside with the freshness of a puntarelle salad: Catalonia chicory sprouts dressed with finely chopped raw garlic, chopped anchovies, capers, olive oil, salt and vinegar (a sprinkle of black pepper is optional). In many dinners, additional vegetable-based dishes are served as well: pan-seared chicory and/or spinach and fennel, celery and carrot raw salad.
- The usual fresh fruits on Christmas are the citruses: oranges and tangerines the most eaten ones. But the real protagonists tonight should be the nuts and the dried fruits: walnuts, hazelnuts and figs (sometimes apricots as well) can make an already hyper-heavy meal a real challenge for your stomach.
- Here’s where the Italian tradition gives its best: a slice of panettone or pandoro (more rarely both of them), a piece of torrone and maybe something more unusual (panforte, cartellate, ricciarelli). If you can get to finish them, you are ready to face an even worst enemy: the December 31 dinner. Good luck!
Since your stomach is very full, here comes the farewells, which normally last 40 minutes, before everybody heads to midnight fun.