Christmas is a highly anticipated and much celebrated holiday in Italy. As is typical of Italian customs, food plays a large role in family Christmas celebrations as well as Italian Christmas dinner. There are many special foods that are only available during the Christmas season, and these treats are eagerly devoured by eager children and adults after Christmas dinner. Here are several traditional foods to try this year if you want to have Italian food for Christmas this year.
Traditional Italian Christmas dinner begins with light appetizers or antipasto. This course often consists of a variety of bread-based dishes. They are complemented with a selection of fresh vegetables and beans.
Crostini with rosemary lentil cream is a delightfully light and refreshing recipe to try. Red onion, rosemary, and lentils are pureed to make a puree that is artistically placed on a toasted slice of bread. Christmas Eve dinners are traditionally meat-free, so this appetizer makes the perfect Italian food for Christmas.
A potato and octopus salad is another very tasty and traditional Christmas meal item. Octopus is very common in Italian cooking, especially at Christmas when people avoid meat. This light dish combines tender octopus pieces with potato and artichoke in a citrus based vinaigrette.
After antipasto comes the pasta dish in an Italian Christmas dinner! Freshly made pasta is, of course, the best option. Whether you make your own or buy it fresh, this is the way to go. There are a variety of ways to enjoy your fresh pasta, and here are some traditional Italian options.
Tortellini in brodo is a traditional northern Italian food for Christmas. Meat or cheese is beautifully wrapped in fresh pasta to create sweet little bites of savory goodness. You then boil the tortellini and serve them in hot, fresh chicken broth. This dish will really warm you up.
Canneloni ripieni are a staple of Italian kitchens, and every family has their own favorite recipe. Canneloni are cylindrical tubes of pasta with a variety of fillings. They are baked and then covered in fresh tomato sauce. One recipe to try for your Italian Christmas dinner is crab and ricotta canneloni. This recipe uses a bechamel sauce instead of a tomato-based sauce.
Christmas dinners in Italy last for hours. Food is plentiful as families enjoy conversation and multiple courses of delicious, homemade food. Pasta (primo piatto) is always followed by the second course (secondo piatto). The main course is often meat or seafood. This plate often has a salad or vegetable accompaniment. Since most Italians do not eat meat on Christmas Eve, here are some traditional second-course items to enjoy.
Baccala alla Vicentina is much loved traditional Italian food for Christmas from Northern Italy. Stockfish is battered and fried in olive oil. Often, you serve this tasty fish dish over polenta.
Cozze, or mussels, are another popular dish at Italian Christmas dinner. Rachel Ray shares her version of mussels in spicy broth.
When the meal is over, it is time for post-dining liquors and dolci (sweets). There are several traditional Italian desserts that are only available at Christmas time, so be sure to try one of these if you get the chance.
Panettone is the traditional Italian Christmas bread. The sweet bread is loaded with candied fruit and has a distinctive shape to it.
Pandoro means “golden bread.” This sweet bread is similar to panettone but a little lighter and without the candied fruit. It is often dusted with light powdered sugar and goes great with coffee.
Struffoli are fried dough balls that are covered in honey and sprinkles. The confection is in a circular, almost wreath-like, shape. This sticky-sweet Christmas treat is very popular in southern Italy and the perfect way to end your Italian Christmas dinner.
These suggestions will allow you to try several traditional Italian foods for Christmas at your meal this year. So, will you be having an Italian Christmas dinner? For more fine Italian dining ideas, see our story about the best wines of Italy for your next tasting.