Each Italian region is fiercely proud of its own speciality and celebrates tradition and innovation in equal measure.
Therefore if you want to put an Italian Christmas Eve spread together you have a vast array of dishes to choose from but fish and seafood are a pretty common theme at this time. This is especially efficacious as a traditional Christmas Eve supper would happen well after Midnight Mass and is a deeply religious time. In fact for tradition’s sake nothing should be eaten until after Mass is said.
My approach would be to have a pureed chestnut soup, finished off with grappa cream. Another recipe in the same vein is chestnut and rice soup where Fontina cheese is mixed into cooked chestnuts and rice then finished with some ground cinnamon. This recipe can be found in Cucina e vini del piedmonte e della valle d’Aosta by Laura Gras Portinari and combines the warming seasonal treat that is the chestnut with a hint of spice which also suggests Christmas.
You may not fancy eel in tomato sauce which is a staple in some parts of Italy and there are recipes for traditional Baccalà in other blogs; so something a little less robust you might want to try is Tortellini in Brodo.
Those, who like me, practised their pasta this summer or last, on a Flavours cooking holiday will relish the opportunity to make some serious Christmas tortellini.
These little packets are filled with chicken and float gracefully in a golden sea of broth. Beef, parmesan, celery, carrot, onion is a gentle precursor to the squeeze of juice and meat that floods your taste buds as the tortellini burst; just the thing when coming in from a frosty night in church.
I also approve when it comes to offering a mixture of soup and light courses, and I like the idea of grazing and socialising rather than a sit down meal at midnight. It also gives the option of preparing much in advance without harm.
That doesn’t mean to say you will get away with not consuming plenty of calories, unfortunately as all things sweet make a regular appearance at this season of festivities. Gubanna, for example, is the traditional cake served at both Christmas and Easter and comprises a sponge with a filling of raisins, Masala, walnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts grated orange zest and the finest dark chocolate. Finished with a thin pink icing dribbled across the top when the cake is still warm, it makes a neat change from Panettone.
If you are lucky you might even want to pair it with some Il Pesce di Natale or The Christmas Fish made by nuns at a convent in Lecca. They live in a state of permanent retreat from the outside world so no one has the exact recipe. These fish are actually confections comprised primarily of almonds ground in a pestle to achieve the consistency of flour which is then added to caster sugar that has been melted without burning. This slightly cooled mixture is put into a fish mould and then in a shallow central depression some pear conserve is added and covered with more sugar and almond paste.
Panettone, stuffed capon with a rich stuffing which includes parmesan, mince, herbs, sausage or more cheese, Insalata di Rinforzo or Struffoli. The choice is yours but it really is worthwhile constructing your own Italian feast to usher in the Christmas festivities.
If on the other hand you fancy doing some research in the flesh there is still time to book a place on a Flavours cooking course in Sicily or Tuscany this December.