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italian christmas recipes
(return to food)
"Natale con i tuoi; Pasqua dove vuoi." Means "Christmas with your family,
Easter wherever you want."
The Christmas recipes are from all over Italy. Two of the recipes were
kindly shared by one of our virtualitalia readers. They are the orange and
lemon salad, which you will find in the Christmas Eve dinner, and the roasted
artichokes in the Christmas Day meal.
Christmas Eve dinner is always "in bianco" - that is, white. No meat is
served, only fish, vegetables, cheese and grains. Christmas Day dinner is
much more voluptuous. Italian children look forward to January 5th, Epiphany, when La Befana
arrives to fill the children's stockings.
As to the question that's been on everyone's mind, "why do Italians always have Christmas diiner that includes 7 fish plates?" a reader of the food forum offers this explination:
always heard the number of fish varies from
region to region. But it is always an odd number.
The number Seven is for the seven sacrements of
the Roman Catholic Church. Nine stands for the
Holy Trinity times 3 (a very powerful number.)
Eleven is for the twelve apostles, minus
Judas. Thirteen stands for Christ and twelve.
I've also heard of fifteen and twenty one but I
can't seem to recall their significance.The meal
progresses course after course (always the smaller to the larger fish)."
Antipasto - Appetizer
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped chives
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 fennel bulbs
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into
1/4-inch julienne strips
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into
1/4-inch julienne strips
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans, drained
1/2 cup pitted, halved Ni oise or Greek olives
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 or 2 bunches watercress
2 tablespoons capers, drained
In a bowl combine all dressing ingredients except oil. Whisk in oil
gradually until thoroughly combined. Trim root, stalk, and feathery leaves
of fennel. Chop and reserve 1 or 2 tablespoons of leaves for garnish. Cut
fennel bulbs vertically into 1/4-inch slices, then into 1/4-inch julienne
strips. In a bowl mix fennel, bellpeppers, and onion, and pour boiling
water over them to cover. Leave in water for 2 minutes, then thoroughly
drain and cool. Add garbanzo beans, olives, and feta cheese. Add
vinaigrette dressing, tossing to combine. Marinate several hours in the
refrigerator. Ring a salad bowl or individual plates with watercress.
Arrange antipasto mixture in the center. Sprinkle with reserved fennel
leaves and capers.
From: More Recipes from a Kitchen Garden, by Renee
Shepherd and Fran Raboff, Ten Speed Press, 1995.
Primo Piatto - First Course
Minestre - Soup
Soup is typically served for the Christmas meal in Italy, often enriched by
stuffed pasta or savory dumplings.
Tortelli in Broth
For the pasta:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
10 cups chicken broth
For the besciamella:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. flour
1 cup whole milk
For the filling:
1 shallot, chopped
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
10 mushrooms, sliced
2 chicken thighs, boiled
2 tbsp. truffle paste
2 tbsp. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Make the pasta: Pour the flour on a counter; make a well in the center, add
the eggs and salt, and work into the flour until a smooth dough forms. You
might need to add a little water or flour. Wrap in plastic; set aside for
30 minutes. Cut into 4 pieces. Using a pasta machine, roll into thin
sheets. Cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Make the besciamella: Melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour; cook over
medium heat 4 minutes, stirring. Whisk in the milk; cook until boiling
and thick, whisking.
Make the filling: Saut the shallot in the olive oil. Add the mushrooms,
salt, and pepper and cook until soft; pur e in a food processor. Debone
the chicken; pur e in the processor. Combine with the mushrooms, 1/2 cup
of the besciamella (reserve the rest for another use), truffle paste,
Parmigiano, salt, and pepper. Place teaspoons of the filling on half of
the pasta sheets; top with the remaining pasta. Press between the rows of
filling to seal; cut with a round 1" cookie cutter. Knead the trimmings
until smooth; repeat the procedure until you have used all the ingredients.
Bring the broth to a boil; cook the tortelli until al dente. Serve in a
soup tureen, passing extra Parmigiano around the table.
Secondo Piatto - Second Course
Baked Whole Sea Bass
A good choice for a main dish when you are serving a large group-a
dramatic presentation, and easy to prepare.
2 medium firm tomatoes (12 ounces total),
1 large onion (about 9 ounces), peeled
1 medium green pepper (about 5 ounces), cored and seeded
1 medium red pepper (about 5 ounces), cored and seeded
1 medium yellow pepper (about 5 ounces), cored and seeded
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons dark raisins
1 whole sea bass, head and tail attached, scaled and gutted (about
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 large garlic clove [about 1/6 ounce, peeled and cut into slivers
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary. Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Slice the tomatoes with the ultra thick slicing disc of a food
processor. Reserve. Slice the onion with the thick slicing disc
Cut the peppers lengthwise into 1-inch strips. Reserve.
Pour the wine over the raisins to marinate for 30 minutes.
Make a diagonal slash on each side of the fish, about 1/4-inch [6mm]
deep and 2 inches long. Oil the fish on both sides and stuff each
slit with a few garlic slivers, butter pieces, a small piece of bay
leaf, a pinch of rosemary, salt and pepper. Lightly salt and pepper the
outside of the fish.
Fill the cavity of the fish with a few slices of tomato and onion,
pepper strips, the remaining butter, bay leaf, garlic, rosemary, salt
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Place the stuffed fish in a well-buttered roasting pan and strew the
remaining vegetables around it. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and
bake in the center of the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Remove the
foil and bake 10 minutes more. Carefully turn the fish over and bake
for 5 minutes. Pour the wine and raisins over the fish and bake 5
Makes 4 servings of about 6 ounces each
Potato Casserole With Cheese and Mushrooms-Tuscan
2 large baking potatoes
3/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 c mushrooms, sliced [=8 oz]
1/2 c Parmesan, freshly grated
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 c mozzarella, shredded
Peel and cut potatoes into thin slices. In bowl, toss potatoes gently with
1/2 tsp. of the salt and half of the oil.
In separate bowl, toss together mushrooms, half of the Parmesan, the onion,
garlic, parsley, thyme, pepper and remaining salt.
In 8-cup greased casserole dish, arrange one-third of potatoes in slightly
overlapping layer; cover with half of the mushroom mixture, then one-third
of the of mozzarella. Repeat layers. Arrange remaining potatoes over top;
sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
Drizzle with remaining oil. Bake in 400F (200C) oven for 40-45 minutes or
until tender. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Source: Canadian Living magazine Oct. '94. Presented in article by Daphna
Rabinovitch: "Italian Country Cooking." Recipes developed by Canadian
Contorni - Side Dishes
Porcini Brasati - Braised Porcini
1 lb. porcini mushrooms
4 Tbs. virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 lb. tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
Slice the mushrooms (or cut into quarters if they are very small). In a
saucepan brown the garlic with olive oil and remove when brown. Add the
tomatoes, saute for 5 minutes, and add the mushrooms. Cook mushrooms until
tender but still crisp. Salt, pepper to taste and add the chopped parsley.
Toss and serve.
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 bunch fresh spinach, stems on, washed and dried
Heat the olive oil with the clove of garlic until the garlic starts to turn
brown. Add the spinach, and using a pair of tongs, toss the leaves quickly
to wilt them. Salt to taste, and if you wish discard the garlic.
Insalata - Salad
Arance e Limoni - Oranges and Lemons
A simple but unique and delicious dish. Peel and thinly slice 6
oranges of oranges. Peel and very thinly slice a couple of lemons. Season
with salt and pepper. Dress with extra virgin olive oil.
Il Dolce - Dessert
2 cups plus 2 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
10 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
For the filling and decoration:
10 oz. ricotta
7 oz. imported mascarpone
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 cup chopped candied fruit
20 confetti or toasted hazelnuts
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350F. Sift the flour and baking powder
with a pinch of salt. Beat the butter and sugar in a mixer until creamy;
add the egg yolks one by one. Fold in the flour. Whip the egg whites with a
pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks; fold them into the batter. Butter
and flour a 9" cake pan with a hole in the center; pour in the batter. Bake
45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean. Cool on a
Make the filling: Combine the ricotta, mascarpone, sugar, and candied
fruit. Slice the cake into three layers and spread with the filling;
assemble the layers, dust with the confectioner's sugar, and decorate with
the confetti or hazelnuts. Refrigerate, then serve.
Caponata di Verdura -- Caponata Made from Greens - A
This is a winter caponata, as you might guess from the list of ingredients.
It is also the traditional cold dish served on Christmas day in the Madonie
1 pound fresh spinach, washed repeatedly and scalded in the water that
drips from the leaves until it wilts, then squeezed dry
3/4 pound chicory
1 cauliflower weighing about 1 1/2 pounds
3/4 pound cardoons (these are a flowerless relative of the artichoke; you
eat the stems after stripping out the fibers as you might those of celery
sticks. If you cannot find them, increase the other vegetables
1/2 pound Belgian endive
1/2 pound celery ribs
2/3 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup toasted bread crumbs
6 salted anchovies, scaled, boned and rinsed
6 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed
1 lemon, finely sliced
white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Boil, or better yet, steam the vegetables individually, chop them into
saut them in olive oil, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and sprinkle
them with a little vinegar. Lay out the caponata in a serving dish.
Saute' the toasted bread crumbs in a little oil with the pine nuts, capers,
anchovy filets, and lemon slices, then spread the mixture over the caponata
and it's ready.
From Kyle Philipps' Cosa Bolle in Pentola
Il Primo - First Course
Cappelletti di Natale - Christmas
Prepare a very thin puff pastry and pull it with a rolling pin. Use
the following ingredients for the stuffing:
one pork steak,
one veal steak,
one chicken breast,
400 gr. of "stracchino" (soft cheese),
two egg yolks,
salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese.
Lightly fry the meat, mince it finely, mix everything and then make
some small "cappelletti," closing them very well with the fingers.
These "cappelletti" are normally cooked for the Christmas lunch,
with a broth of capon, beef and turkey. Capon was the preferred
course of ecclesiastic people and princes.
Il Secondo Piatto - Second Course
La Carne - Meat
Bracioline Ripiene -- Stuffed Veal
1 pound (8) veal cutlets
3 ounces lean veal, minced
1 1/2 ounces lean prosciutto, minced
1 1/2 ounces veal marrow, ground to a coarse paste (optional; increase the
prosciutto if you leave it out. If you do choose to include it (it will
give the dish a satiny texture), ask your local butcher for it or check an
2/3 Cup grated Parmigiano
1 large egg
salt and pepper to taste
a small onion, minced
a small carrot, minced
a 6-inch stick of celery, minced
a slice of pancetta, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
To thin them, pound the cutlets well with a meat pounder or the flat of a
frequently dipped in water.
Mix the remaining veal, the prosciutto, the marrow, and the cheese
together, adding the egg last to bind the mixture; season it with a pinch
of pepper (salt shouldn't be necessary because of the prosciutto and the
Parmigiano). Stretch the cutlets out and spread the mixture over them, then
roll them up and tie them with string.
Mince the onion, celery, carrot, and pancetta. Melt the butter in a skillet
over a medium flame and, when the onion is lightly browned, add the veal
cutlets, seasoning them with salt and pepper.
When the cutlets are browned, add the tomato sauce and a little water (or
the wine), cover partially, and simmer them till they're done,15-20
Remove the strings before serving.
These stuffed cutlets can also be roasted in the oven. While you're
preparing them, preheat the oven to 350 F. Put the cutlets on a rack, baste
them with olive oil and salt, and roast them till they're done (about a half
hour), turning and basting them once or twice.
Pollame - Poultry
Cappone con le Noci - Capon with
This is a specialty of the Lombardy region prepared during the Christmas
The excellent broth can be used to cook small ravioli and can be served as a
1 4-lb. capon
1/2 cup cream
2 Tbs. butter
20 chopped walnuts
4 Tbs. grated Parmesan
3 egg yolks
4 Tbs. cream
1 celery stalk
4 slices white bread, crust removed
Clean and bone the capon and leave it in its natural shape. Soak the bread
in the cream. Soften the butter and mix with the walnuts, the Parmesan, egg
yolks, and the bread. Beat the mixture well with a wooden spoon until it is
soft and dense, adding more bread or cream if necessary. Salt, pepper and
add a pinch of grated nutmeg. Insert the stuffing in the capon; sew and tie
the bird closed. Bring a large pot of water to a boil- the pot should be
just large enough to hold the bird. Add celery and carrot, lower the
heat and cook the stuffed capon in this broth over low heat for 1/2-2
hours, salting halfway through. Serve the capon carved with some of the
stuffing. This dish may be accompanied by preserved spiced fruits (mostarda
Verdura - Vegetable Plate
Red Onion, Goat Cheese and Basil Tart
Since the crust is made with purchased puff pastry, this delightful savory
tart comes together easily.
2 medium-size red onions, unpeeled, each cut into 12 wedges
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17 1/4-ounce package), thawed
1 large egg, beaten to blend
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
1/4 cup purchased pesto
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Preheat oven to 400 F. Oil heavy large baking sheet. Toss onion wedges with
oil in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange onions in single
layer on baking sheet. Bake until bottoms of onions are golden and onions
are very tender, about 25 minutes. Transfer sheet to rack; cool. (Can be
made 1 day ahead . Cover and let stand at room temperature.)
Preheat oven to 400 F. Roll out pastry on lightly floured surface to
14 x11-inch rectangle. Trim edges to even. Cut 1/2-inch strip from each side
of pastry, forming 13x10-inch rectangle; reserve strips. Transfer pastry
rectangle to another heavy large baking sheet. Brush edges with some of
beaten egg; reserve remaining egg. Place strips on edges of tart, creating
border. Trim strips; press gently to adhere. Pierce bottom of pastry several
times with fork. Bake until edges puff and pastry is golden brown, about 15
minutes. Transfer baking sheet to rack. Using metal spatula, loosen pastry
from baking sheet. Cool completely on sheet. Reduce oven temperature to
Stir cheese, pesto, cream and 2 tablespoons basil in medium bowl until
smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in remaining beaten egg. Spread
cheese mixture evenly over bottom of crust. Remove peel and stem end from
roasted onions. Fan wedges, golden brown side up, over cheese mixture.
Bake tart until crust is brown and cheese appears set, about 20 minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to rack and cool tart to room temperature.
Sprinkle tart with remaining 1 tablespoon basil. Cut into squares.
I Contorni - Side Dishes
Sicilian Roasted Artichoke
From Ronald Scro
We also make a roasted artichoke with olive oil, salt, and garlic that I
have never encountered anywhere else.
My mother, Teresa Scro, from whom I learned to cook, never used recipes. I
had the unusual fortune of often helping her in the kitchen as a child but
I remember only the preparing of the artichoke and then the later cooking
stage. The artichokes would be in the oven sitting in a low metal pan with
an inch of water covered by aluminum foil. I remember the aluminum foil
covering the artichokes being removed for the final roasting which turned
the ends of the leaves black, encrusted with salt.
Obviously, this was an innovation on her part since I doubt that my
grandmother used aluminum foil. In that spirit, I have devised a method of
making them that seems faster and, for reasons of failed memory or technique,
only almost as good. I suppose I could contact my aunt for a more authentic
approach, and if you request so, I will.
I prepare the artichoke in the typical manner, cutting off the stem and the
end of each leaf. Then I wash the choke and cook it in a covered pan on the
stove (or microwave) with an inch of water. Before cooking I drizzle olive
oil over each and add more salt than can possibly be healthy. (I use olive
oil with garlic but I don't think my mother used garlic when she made it.)
When they are nearly done I put the pan uncovered in the oven and roast
them. They never come out as salty or as perfectly darkly-colored yet
flexible as when my mother made them but nevertheless they impress everyone
who has sat at our table on a roasted artichoke day.
My mother learned this recipe from her mother-in-law Francesca Scro, who
emigrated from Marineo, Sicily at the turn of the century and had no
exposure to Northern Italians in Italy or the US, so I consider it a
Potatoes with Parsley and Green Onions
1 cup sliced green onions (about 5)
1 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
1/3 cup olive oil
2 to 2 1/4 pounds medium-size red potatoes, rinsed, unpeeled
Using a knife, finely chop green onions and parsley together on cutting board.
Transfer to small bowl. Mix in oil.
Meanwhile, cook potatoes in pot of boiling salted water until tender, about
25 minutes. Drain potatoes. Cut potatoes into 1-inch cubes; place in large
bowl. Season potatoes generously with salt and pepper. Mix in green onion
mixture. Serve hot, or let stand up to 2 hours and serve at room
4 to 6 Servings
Beet, Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad
6 small beets, trimmed (about 18 ounces)
6 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
3 tablespoon Sherry wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove, pressed
Pinch of sugar
12 cups mixed baby greens
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (about 2 ounces)
Preheat oven to 400 F. Wrap beets in foil, enclosing completely. Bake until
beets are tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Peel
and slice beets. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Whisk olive oil, Sherry wine vinegar, garlic and sugar in medium bowl to
blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine mixed greens, sliced green onions and beets in large bowl. Pour
dressing over and toss to coat. Divide salad among 6 plates. Sprinkle with
Gorgonzola cheese and toasted walnuts and serve.
Il Dolce - Dessert
We always buy panettone and we have plenty on hand for breakfast, lunch,
dinner and in between. But if you would like to know how it is made and
maybe make it yourself, here is the recipe.
Panettone - Milano
Almost every region in Italy has its own holiday cake, but this
Milanese cake is the most famous and certainly the most difficult to
make. Panettone is available both in a high, dome shape or flat version.
Natural yeast (that is, a piece of fermented dough) is essential to making
a real panettone, because if the cake is made directly from brewer's
yeast, its flavor is less delicate. In addition, the process of letting the
dough rise must be carried out according to very specific instructions so
that the result will be a soft and airy texture. In any case, the time
required for rising depend on many factors: the temperature of the room,
the season, the length of the mixing process, etc. Therefore the periods of
time given in the recipe can only be approximate.
1 oz. baker's yeast
3 oz..flour , 2 cups flour
7 Tbs. sugar
1 whole egg
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup melted butter
6 Tbs. soaked, squeezed raisins
2 oz. candied orange and
lemon peel, diced
1 1/2 Tbs. butter
Mix the yeast with the flour and as much water as necessary to achieve an
elastic dough, wrap in a towel and put in a warm draft-free place (an
unlit oven for example) until it has doubled (should take approx. 30
minutes) in volume and the surface is uneven. Make a small fountain with 4
Tbs. flour. Crumble the dough cake on top of it, add 2 cups warm water and
knead until you have a soft and elastic dough. Let rise in a warm place for
3 hours. Punch down the dough, then knead in another 4 Tbs. flour, with as
much warm water as necessary. Place the dough in a warm place to rise for 2
hours. Combine the sugar, the whole egg and the yolks, mix well and cook in
a double boiler for a few minutes, beating the mixture with a whisk so that
it becomes light and airy. Let cool.
Make another fountain with the remaining flour. Put in a pinch of salt the
risen dough, the butter and the egg mixture into the middle. Knead
energetically for 20 minutes. When the dough is smooth and elastic, add the
raisins and candied peel. Grease and flour a sheet of waxed paper and place
the dough in the middle. Make a ring around it with a rectangular piece of
cardboard and let rise in a warm place for at least 6 hours or until the
dough has doubled in volume. With a sharp knife cut a cross on the top of the
cake and put 1 Tbs. butter in the middle. Cook the panettone in a preheated
400 F. oven for 40-45 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted in
the center comes out dry.
January 5th is an important night for Italian children: The Befana, a
frightful witch, will mount her broom and fly through the sky to fill their
stockings, with candy if they've been good, and with coal if they've not.
Though now the kids just get their stockings on Epiphany, until quite
recently they received almost all of their gifts on the 12th day of
Christmas. If you think about it, the practice of giving a gift on Epiphany
makes sense,since that's when the Magi arrived at the manger. And the
Befana? There are a number of stories; according to one, she refused the
Magi hospitality, then changed her mind and tried to follow them. But they
were gone, so she still seeks the Christ Child every Epiphany.
Her arrival is often celebrated with the first batch of a traditional
Carnival pastry known by a variety of names, including Cenci (rags) in
Florence and Frappe in Rome; Ada Boni, who borrows Pellegrino Artusi's
recipe, uses the more poetic "Lover's Knots." They are very pretty when
carefully made, so she is probably right. To make a batch you will need:
2 1/4 cups (225 grams) flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup (35 grams) confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon brandy
A pinch of salt
More confectioner's sugar for dusting
Make a fairly stiff dough with these ingredients, kneading it thoroughly,
and adding more flour if it comes out too soft. Flour it and let it rest,
covered. Then roll it out into an eighth-of-an-inch-thick sheet, and use a
serrated pastry wheel to cut it into strips as long as your palm and two
fingers wide. Make a cut down the middle of each cencio (so as to obtain
two strips joined at the ends), twist the side strips without breaking
them, fry them in hot oil or lard, and dust them with confectioner's sugar
when they're cool. This recipe is sufficient to make a platterful. Should
the dough have formed a crust while it sat, knead it again before you roll