Italian Christmas Cuisine (A Little History & 4 Great Recipes)

Even today, Christmas continues to be one of the most important holidays of the year in Italy.  In Rome, the playful side of the holiday is displayed through the many decorations to be seen outside and inside of homes and business.  In essence, the streets of the Eternal City are glimmering with the spirit of the Christmas season.

Image from Serious Eats: Click Image for Italian Grilled Octopus Recipe.

Click per la versione italiana.

If Christmas is embodied by the presence of Il Presepe (Nativity Scene), then the Christmas Dinner is its perfect complement, one that is uniquely defined in italy.

Unlike in other parts of the world, the Christmas Dinner is not held on Christmas itself, but rather the day before on the 24th, Christmas Eve.  It is a time when Italian families gather together to enjoy a rich meal.  “Rich meal” here means one that takes over the entire table because of the massive amounts of food that one is welcomed to consume.

Image From Gallery Hip: Click Image for Mario Batali’s Clam and Mussel Soup Recipe.

Why is there such a feast on Christmas Eve?

Well, it is because during the day of Christmas Eve, for many Italians (who are largely Catholic), it is a period of fasting or observed abstinence.  In the tradition of ancient Rome, it is said that this tradition of abstinence was observed between the 17th and 30th of December.  During that time, organizing the menu for those nights meant preparing dishes made from fish purchased from specialized markets.  Already in AD 542, tradition speaks of the many, the “waves of people”, who descended upon the Forum Pescium (Fish Market) to buy fresh fish at wholesale cost; but by 1927, a general market was created in Ostiense.

Image from Italian Food Forever: Click Image for Shrimp Scampi Recipe.

The meals for Christmas Eve vary by household as there is no established/expected menu for the evening.  However, there are certain delicacies that can be found on many tables, such as peeled shrimp (gamberetti sgusciati), octopus (polipetti), marinated eel and pickles (anguilla marinata e sottaceti), skate or clam broth (brodo di arzilla o con vongole veraci), and a variety roasted fish or prawns.

Image from Memorie di Angelina: Click for Neapolitan Style Capitone fritto (Fried Eel) Recipe.

Of course, the meal was not just about the fish. Many different types of vegetables were served, usually fried: broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, zucchini fillet, cardoon, and potatoes. There were also different fruits, usually citrus: tangerines, oranges, clementines; and of course nuts (such as walnuts).

Image from Blog Mulberry Pomegranate: Click to See More Images of Fall/Winter Fruits and Vegetables (in Tuscany), and to read more.

From time immemorial, Christmas has always been a continuation of traditions, both of the religious and flavorful.

Original Article by Samir Hassan

(Translated & Edited by Diedré Blake)

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