These days talk revolves around food (even more than usual) as everyone is planning their menu for the vigiglia di Natale (Christmas Eve). While a normal meal, especially in the South, is often object of discussion at 8am, holiday meals are decided weeks in advance, with some negotiation between family members. Not surprisingly, what’s eaten on December 24 differs vastly between Italian regions, and most families stick to their own traditions even if they have moved to another part of the country.
I asked friends from Milan down to Sicily to send their me Christmas menus so we can vicariously eat our way down the boot.
Emilia-Romagna / Lombardy: Patrizia and the Nave-Cerutti family
I asked Patrizia, an old family friend from Milan, what their family prepares for Christmas. They now live in the small town of Somaglia in Lodi province on the Emilia-Romagna border so this menu might be “contaminated”. In the north, the 24th is generally not celebrated, so this is in truth a Christmas lunch menu for the 25th.
- Tartine decorate – white sandwich bread with various toppings, including butter and anchovy paste, artichoke paste, prosciutto, salami, etc.
- Pollo in gelatina – Chicken salad in a gelatin form
- Mixed cured meats
- Casoncelli – a type of half-moon shaped ravioli from Bergamo filled with meat, grana padano and herbs, topped with grated grana padano, butter, bacon and sage (Here’s a beautiful recipe from Essenza in Cucina, whose photo is above).
- Pasta with wanut sauce
- Faraona arrosto – roast pheasant
- Cima ripiena alla genovese – a Ligurian veal and vegetable stuffed meat loaf; the Milanese variant is fried
Lucca, Tuscany: Laura, Fabio and the Rossi family
I asked my friend Laura De Benedetto, of southern origin, to poll her mother in law for what their family will be having in Lucca, since I was interested in a Tuscan representative outside of Florence. Here is their response.
- Mixed crostini with liver pate, sliced cured metas
- Polenta with porchini mushrooms
- Tordelli Lucchesi al ragù di carne – a meat-filled pasta typical of this region, with a meat and tomato sauce (see a recipe by Aurelio Barattini)
- Mixed boiled meats is the traditional dish, served with various sauces
- Boiled or mashed potatoes on the side
- Fresh and dried Fruit
Acquapendente, Lazio: the Cammilli family
On the border between Lazio and Tuscany, I wanted to see if my sister in law Laura Cammilli’s family meal was very different from Laura De Benedetto’s husband’s family dinner in Lucca. Her Mom, Silvia, says their own menu has been personalized so much over the years that she’s asked a friend for a more typical menu of their town.
The meal does not start with apetizers because the townspeople believe that this is just a waste of precious time that ought to be dedicated to the proper meal! So we go straight to the primi…
- Spaghetti al tonno – spaghetti with tuna
- Pasta e ceci – pasta and chick peas (See Recipe from Spadelliamo Insieme)
- Baccala’ fritto – fried baccala (salt fish)
- carciofi e cavolfiore fritto – fried artichokes and cauliflower
- Roast eel
- Tozzetti – dried biscuits similar to “biscotti” (cantucci di prato)
- Ubriachelli – another dried biscuit, served with wine
- Maccheroni dolci – sweet pasta with honey and wanuts
Taranto, Puglia: the Olivieri family (my in-laws)
For Christmas Eve, one traditionally has fish, while meat is served on Christmas day. Taranto is the “city of two seas” and they say if you don’t eat cozze (mussels) you’re not Tarantino; fish in general abounds in their cooking. Although my in-laws’ family moved to Florence in the early 70s, there are traditional Pugliese elements in their menu, and certainly the extent of the hospitality, variety, and amount of food served is 100% southern Italian. Some parts of the menu have been altered to our personal tastes and to my particular, vegetarian diet. The photos below are actual fish cooked by my father in law and shot hastily with an iphone before being eaten.
- Mix di frutti di mare crudi (noci, ostriche e cozze) e al gratin (cozze e ostriche) – mix of raw and baked au gratin seafood
- Spaghetti con le cozze – Spaghetti with mussels (as Tommaso and I don’t eat this, there is usually a second primo, such as ravioli or spaghetti with vegetable sauce, for us)
- Branzino, dentice o orata al forno – baked white fish
- Roasted zucchini and eggplant
- Insalata Russa which is called Salad Olivier in English (potatoes, mayo, egg and other ingredients)
- Green salad (I think this was added just for me)
- Cheeses: mozzarella, caciocavallo and ricotta
- Frutta mista fresca e secca – display of fresh and dried fruit, including pineapple
- Panettone, cartellate, sannacchiudere
- Spumante, nocino digestivo
Meal duration: 3-4 hours
Bonus: The central elements of the Christmas Day Menu planned by my in-laws are Lasagna with meatballs, prosciutto cotto and provola cheese; Agnello al forno con patate (roast lamb with potatoes); spinach, fried artichokes. Plus all the various antipasti, fruits and desserts.
Taormina, Sicily: Francesca and her mom Silvana
I expected differences between North and South, but not such great difference between Puglia and Sicily. But Sicily is a very special island region with its own cuisine, and the menu that Francesca has sent me is very different indeed. I think they might actually eat more than my Pugliese family.
- Ricotta a forno – Baked ricotta
- Melanzane arrosto – Roasted eggplants
- Caponata – roasted peppers in oil
- Maccheroni alla norma – a kind of home made pasta with eggplant and tomato sauce
- Pasta con finocchietto selvatico (wild fennel pasta)
- Falsomagro – a giant meat loaf that I’m told takes days to digest (it’s name means “fake thin”)
- Involtini alla siciliana (bracioline)
- Semifreddo alle mandorle – almond mousse
- Cassata – traditionally a Christmas dessert, it’s now eaten year round
Francesca leaves us with a sicilian saying:
“Panza cuntenti, cori clementi; panza dijuna, nenti pirduna.”
In Italian that’s pancia contenta, cuore clemente; pancia digiuna, niente perdona; or in English, Happy stomach, lenient heart, empty stomach, no mercy.
So fill your stomach til it can take no more… and know that on the 25th, and again on the 26th, you’re going to be doing it all over again. Merciless families like mine will stuff you also on Dec 31, Jan 1 and Jan 6, so ready that gym membership and let out your waistbands – temporarily.
I feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends and family… who are all really good cooks! A big abbraccio and much love to Patrizia, Laura DB, Laura C, Enzo and Francesca for participating in this little “project” by sending menus. Buon appetito.
Merry Christmas to all, from my table (or my in-laws’ table) to yours!
NOTE: I’ve chosen to link recipes in Italian because it’s difficult to find these authentic regional dishes on English websites. I’ve aimed for the most attractive photos, understanding that these might not be the most traditional interpretations.