Exploring Italian Christmas Specialties, Region by Region
Buccellato? Stoccafisso? Discover these and more Christmas specialties from the various regions of Italy. Plus, two special recipes for your Christmas table.
Would you ever imagine that one single country could have a whole bunch of different Christmas culinary traditions? Since we’re talking about Italy, are you surprised?
Foodiamo collected some of the most peculiar Christmas specialties, menus, and preparations throughout the Italian peninsula, from North to South. You’ll be delighted to see how customs change from region to region. It’s something that often surprises us Italians, too!
Christmas Specialties from Northern Italy
Let’s start from the North. Here the type of food tends to be heavy: Think lots of meat, and butter over extra-virgin olive oil. It’s a legacy of the old aristocratic cuisine. In Veneto, for example, it is common to make a meat-based broth to serve tortellini in as first course, then eat that same meat (called bollito, meaning “boiled”) as second course, along with mayonnaise and cren, a spicy horseradish sauce. As a side, mashed potatoes and stewed lentils are very popular during the whole holiday time.
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A similar thing happens in Piedmont, where the capon used to make the broth for cappelletti is then stuffed with minced meat, sausage, and prosciutto, and served as second course with bagnetto, a green sauce made with parsley and anchovies.
Cappelletti and tortellini are two shapes of fresh stuffed pasta than can be easily found also on the Christmas table of other regions, such as Emilia-Romagna. In most cases, they are made with egg-based pasta dough stuffed with meat, and served in a flavorful meat-based broth.
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If you are looking for a truly Italian Christmas project for this year, look no further: Find below the authentic recipe for cappelletti by Piedmont food blogger Francesca, who made her beloved grandma’s recipe all by herself for the first time this Christmas time.
Christmastime in Central Italy
Moving towards Tuscany and Liguria, we find the same tendency to eat meat, which usually includes crostini with chicken livers (fegatini) as part of the appetizers. The second course can be lamb roast with potatoes, fried lamb ribs, or good old bollito, served with regional sauces.
The reason behind these Christmas meat-based feasts lies in the day before, the Vigilia. On Christmas Eve, the dinner menu can only include fish or vegetarian dishes (often with chickpeas), as a Christian tradition of penitence. Many families in Italy observe this practice, even if, over the years, it became an excuse to enjoy a sumptuous fish-based dinner!
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A typical fish eaten in various forms is dried salted codfish (baccalà, or stoccafisso, a slightly higher-quality kind), which can be fried, minced and turned into fishballs, or stewed. If you want to give it a try, scroll down to find a recipe for stoccafisso in salsa (“stockfish in sauce”) by Carlo, a food, wine, and beer connoisseur from the Marche region.
The Grand Finale: Christmas Desserts from Southern Italy
Some Christmas dessert are widespread across the country, such as panettone (originally from Lombardy), pandoro (from Veneto) or torrone (nougat), which can be hard or soft. In Central Italy, you also find confections made of nuts, candied fruit, and spices, which vary slightly from region to region, like panpepato (Umbria, Emilia-Romagna), panforte (Tuscany), or pangiallo (Lazio).
Southern Italy, however, has a stronger Christmas dessert tradition. Let’s take Sicily, for example. Their year-round galore of amazing desserts (cannoli, cassata, fruit-shaped marzipan treats…) is obviously available on Christmas day as well, along with a typical holiday cake called buccellato, a round of shortcrust pastry filled with dried figs, raisins, almonds, and walnuts.
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In Apulia, where people love all-things fried (who can blame them?), you can find pettole, deep fried balls of dough similar to zeppole or frittelle, which you can also enjoy as savory snacks.
Speaking of zeppole, let’s spend a word about Christmas desserts in Campania, which include struffoli (fried tiny balls of dough, held together by honey and covered in sprinkles), mostaccioli (diamond-shaped and chocolate-covered spiced soft cookies), and roccocò (ring-shaped cookies with nuts and spices).
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Something common to every Italian region at the end of the meal? Espresso, clementines, and mixed nuts. Finally, a good digestivo to recover from this bonanza, and be ready to start all over again in the following days. Buon Natale!
Italian Christmas Specialty #1: Cappelletti in Brodo, from Francesca’s blog Maccaroni Reflex
For the filling: Sauté the meats (200 g beef neck, 200 g pork capocollo, or coppa, and 150 g chicken breast) with 30g butter, a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, a rosemary sprig, and two bay leaves. After a couple of minutes, add half cup of wine white. When the meats are cooked through (it’s going to take about 45 minutes), grind them in a mixer, along with 200g of prosciutto. Add 100g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, two eggs, some freshly-grated nutmeg, and salt and black pepper to taste. Combine everything and let rest overnight.
For the capon broth: Put the capon (disemboweled and featherless) in a stockpot with the vegetables, cut in large pieces (two celery sticks, one carrot, one onion, one leek, one garlic clove, and some fresh parsley), cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Let simmer gently for a couple of hours, add salt and black pepper to taste, then strain the broth. Reserve the capon and the vegetables for other uses.
For the pasta: Mix 40 g of all-purpose flour with four eggs, working on a large wood board. Add some salt, then, with lightly-oiled hands, knead the dough until it’s firm but still elastic. Roll the dough using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, until it’s thin, but not too much. Use a small ravioli stamp to make squares of rolled dough. Put a little ball of filling in the center of each square and lightly wet the edges with water to make them stick together more easily. Fold into a triangle, then stick the two ends together, rolling the cappelletto around the tip of your pinkie. During the preparation, don’t forget to cover the pasta dough with a damp towel, so that it keeps soft and pliable. Let your cappelletti rest on the board, so that the dough can dry out a little bit.
When ready to eat, cook them in the capon broth for a few minutes, then serve in a soup plate, sprinkled with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano. You can make the cappelletti in advance and freeze them until ready to cook on Christmas day.
Italian Christmas Specialty #2: Stoccafisso in Salsa, from Carlo’s blog Osteria Marchigiana
Soak the stockfish in water for a few days, to make it softer. In the meantime, make the sauce with pickled red, green, and yellow bell peppers, onion, garlic, parsley, and cured anchovies, with extra-virgin olive oil and tomato sauce. Mince all the ingredients together, then bring to a boil on the stovetop. Cut the soaked stockfish into pieces and briefly boil it.
To compose the dish, cover the fish with abundant hot sauce. Sometimes steamed cauliflower and hard-boiled eggs are added at this point, but it’s optional. Let it sit for a couple of days, so that the fish can absorb all the sauce flavors, and eat cold.
Cover photo by Francesca of MaccaroniReflex. A huge THANK YOU to some pretty cool referents from different Italian regions, who were nice enough to tell Foodiamo about their regional traditions: Chiara (Veneto), Francesca (Piedmont), Claudia (Liguria), Giuliano and Greta (Tuscany), Raffaella (Emilia-Romagna), Carlo (Marche), Assuntina and Elisa (Lazio), Adele (Sicily), Dino (Apulia), and Rosa (Campania).