The Italian cuisine is certainly renowned throughout the world, and it gives its best during the Christmas season. From north to south, from east to west, in Italy the dishes linked to the Christmas holidays are highly symbolic.
Culinary traditions in this period differ in every region of Italy, and not just from one region to another, but even between cities. Yet, despite the differences, ItalyXP has tried to list the ones that are considered the "classic dishes", most representative of this holiday.
So, as we suggest our top 5 (+1) dishes not to miss if you are in Italy at Christmas time, we also take the opportunity to wish you happy holidays!
1. Capitone (eel)
The "capitone" is the female eel, and it is named like that because of the larger size of the head compared to the male (in Neapolitan dialect, capitone means big head). It is tradition everywhere in Southern Italy, especially in Naples, to eat the capitone, roasted and baked,on Christmas Eve, and the origin of this tradition is due to an ancient superstition (as often happens in the Italian culinary traditions).
According to the superstition, the eel is a symbol of the evilness, due to its resemblance to the snake, which is the animal that - in the Christian Bible - tempted Eve to eat the "forbidden apple", condemning humanity to death. During Christmas, with the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who by his death has redeemed humanity from all sins, eating the eel means "eating the snake". A symbolic act that brings good luck.
Another practical and realistic reason for this culinary tradition is that the eel is a very fat fish, very common in the past and accessible even to those who had few financial resources, so an ideal dish for those who needed to eat something substantial and, therefore, superstition might have had the function to encourage people to eat it.
Everyone family in Italy has its own favorite recipe for lasagna, but what is certain is that no one at Christmas can resist a hearty lasagna, with Bolognese sauce and Béchamel.
The history of this world-famous recipe can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks: when the Romans conquered Greece around 146 BC, they adopted the local culture, as well as the food traditions as their own. The Greek word laganon, used to describe flat dough sliced into strips, is believed to be the origin of the word "lasagna". So, even if the Greeks clearly didn't invent the dish we love today, they probably inspired it.
Nowadays' lasagna, the richly layered dish filled with sumptuous tomato sauce, made its debut in Naples, during the Middle Ages. Laboriously crafted and fit for a crowd, lasagna was savored on special occasions. The traditional Italian lasagna features meat sauce (ragù), béchamel and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, all enclosed between several layers of pasta. A must try!
3. Oven-Roasted Lamb and Potatoes
Although many Italian families consider the abbacchio (lamb) with potatoes as a typical Easter dish, this delicious recipe is also cooked very often even at Christmas too. It is one of the most famous dishes of the Roman culinary traditions, and its ancient origins dates back to the Roman times.
It is a simple dish but still refined and loved by everyone, perfect for a rich meal on Christmas Day.
4. Pasta in brodo (Pasta in broth)
From North to South, the typical dish of the Christmas dinner is the pasta in broth: a hot and tasty dish that appeals to everyone, young and elderly. There are many types of pasta that can be combined with the broth: from the classic tortellini, typical of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna, to the noodles, a type of pasta very long and thin, similar to spaghetti.
Normally, the pasta in broth is made with the huge pieces of juicy meat, which also can be used as the second course of the Christmas dinner.
5. Cappone Ripieno (Stuffed Capon)
Traditional second courses of the New Year's Eve, for many Italian families especially in North and center, the stuffed capon is a classic dish to be served to the table for the family holidays. Originally, the filling was made with the guts of the animal to give flavor, and were added chestnuts or walnuts, a few pieces of sausage and bread to mix everything. Today the main ingredient to stuff the capon is ground meat, beef or pork, always mixed with stale bread sponged in water, eggs, sausage, ham or sausage and dried fruits.
This recipe was originated in the countryside of Piedmont, so that the most famous recipe is the one of Piedmont. When capons became sufficiently fat they were sold on the market at a price much higher, and it was considered a "luxury" food.
(+1). Pandoro and Panettone
It's not an authentic Italian Christmas without the two typical cakes Italian: the Pandoro and the Panettone. Every family has a favorite between those two, but what is certain is that both are present on every Italian tables during the holiday season, no matter what region of Italy.
The Pandoro is a typical Christmas cake from the city of Verona, and its origins date back to the 18th century. Many prefer the natural type, but the sweet-tooth prefer to eat it stuffed with cream or chocolate.
The Panettone, instead, is a typical Milanese cake, and it became over the years a true symbol of Christmas in Italy. It is a sweet soft, stuffed with raisins and candied fruit, better to be served with dried-fruits and walnuts at the end of an hearty Christmas meal.