What do Italians eat on Christmas Day?

December 28, 2009 0 By sonia.massi

Christmas has just gone by  and everybody here in Italy organized a delicious Christmas lunch to delight and impress their invited relatives and friends with many delicious Christmas dishes!!!!

Christmas is probably the most heartfelt celebration here in Italy and there are a few typical culinary dishes which are exclusively prepared at Christmas time by our mothers and grand-mothers. Let’s have a look at the most characteristic ones, the ones which really embody the spirit of Christmas for us.

If you should take part in an Italian Christmas lunch, you’ll almost certainly get to eat two special kinds of Italian pasta:  Lasagne and Cannelloni.

There are some traditional families which offer both of them to their guests, while others just prepare one baked pasta dish!

But, what does the word “Cannelloni” mean?

It is a typical Italian soft stuffed pasta, in the shape of  small tubes, whose stuffing can be made of minced meat or of ricotta (an Italian cheese) and spinach, according to taste. Cannelloni can be served in the “red version” (with sauce) or in the “white version” (covered by Italian bechamel sauce).

Lasagne, (here in the Marche region, more popularly called “Timballo”) are similar to Cannelloni because the ingredients are the same but, while Cannelloni are composed of many stuffed tubes of soft pasta, Lasagne are created by layers of pastasfoglia and minced meat or vegetables, mixed with Mozzarella (another Italian very famous cheese) and flavored with sauce or with milk, cream and bechamel.

These are both essential first courses of Italian tradition on Christmas day but, even though they could be considered “complete dishes” because of the presence of pasta, meat and cheese, Italians don’t stop eating after this first course, but continue their Christmas lunch with Roast-beef and green vegetables such as spinach or chicory, both flavored by a delicious sauce made with minced carrots, oil, onion and celery, everything reduced to a sort of cream.

A Christmas lunch is not a real Christmas lunch if the famous “Olive all’ascolana” are not presented on the table, together with crema fritta (a deep fried custard cut in small squares and breaded) and fried meat.

Olive all’ascolana is a typical specialty of our Marche region, in particular of our district Ascoli Piceno and it is made using a certain quality of olives which grow in our territory. These olives are quite big and they are stoned, opened and stuffed with minced mixed meat (chicken, pork and beef) flavored with parmesan, nutmeg, minced parsley, eggs and salt). They are then dipped in beaten egg, into flour and then breaded and finally deep-fried. Most people, especially the younger generation who don’t know how to prepare these olives or have no time to hand make them, buy them from a shop (there are some shops that specialize in the preparation of Olive all’ascolana), but there are still some women who spend an entire afternoon preparing them by hand with care and devotion.

Roast lamb is another typical Christmas dish for Italians, and it is served almost at the end of Christmas lunch, accompanied by mixed salad or by roasted potatoes. Sometimes, lamb is substituted with roasted chicken.

But, let’s now look at the typical Christmas cakes and sweets, so appreciated by Italians and eaten just on this special day!!!!

If we speak of typical Italian Christmas cakes, we have to mention a the top of the list the “king of Italian Christmas”: the Panettone. It is served at the end of everybody’s Christmas lunch as the proud finale of a really tremendous lunch.

The original recipe of the Italian Panettone includes raisins and candied fruits in the mix which is not all that sweet. However, Panettone has gone through considerable evolution over recent years and the traditional raisins and candied fruits are often substituted by chocolate, cream and sour flavorings. Some Panettoni are also flavored with liqueurs such as Italian Limoncello or Cointreau.

Next on the list after the Panettone (whether classic or adapted), there is another famous Italian cake: the Pandoro, similar to Panettone but with a sweeter dough. This cake is much appreciated by children because of its sweetness but it is also higher in calories than the Panettone, because it contains a higher percentage of butter in the mixture.

Both children and adults delight in Torrone, a typical Italian Christmas candy, which can be soft or hard, like the famous white Torrone with almonds or nuts. Torrone can be made of chocolate with nuts or cornflakes or white, sometimes flavored with Anisetta, a famous liqueur produced in Ascoli Piceno, but exported all over the world.

The most traditional women here in San Benedetto del Tronto, and in the local neighborhoods,  usually prepare a special cake, called “Fristingo” at Christmas time. Its originates in Offida, a pretty little town of our Piceno territory, and it is made with cocoa, nuts, almonds, liqueur, candied fruit and…with a lot of patience because it takes a very long time to prepare. It is then cooked and eaten on Christmas day or given to someone as Christmas gift.

These are the most traditional dishes of Italy (in particular of our Piceno territory) that we all enjoy eating on Christmas day!

Have we already made your mouth water at the thought?

So, why wait to organize your next Christmas holiday here in Italy, perhaps even in our town? You would at last be able to taste our famous Italian cooking, enjoy the beauties of our Nature and of our landscapes during the winter season. The ideal opportunity to relax and immerse yourself completely in the Italian tradition!!!!

Are you curious to discover which are the main typical Italian dishes of the New Year’s Eve? Don’t miss our next article!!!

Happy Holidays to you all from

Arben, Tatiana, Cristina, Sonia

and from the other valued members of our Gleni staff!!!!

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