Looking to celebrate Christmas Italian-style? You have plenty of options! Each of Italy’s 20 regions has its own traditional Italian Christmas dinner menu – here’s a look at some of the most popular dishes, from north to south.
Italian Christmas Dinner Menu – Our Favorite Picks
Pizza Scarola – Escarole Pizza. This is a typical Christmas recipe from Naples and the surrounding region of Campania, served as a tasty antipasto. It is filled with escarole, a type of salad, mixed with anchovies, garlic and olives; pine nuts and raisins are also added at the end. The dough preparation is the same as for pizza. Pizza scarola is easy both to prepare and serve, perfect to prepare your taste buds for the feast ahead!
Insalata di Polpo e Patate – Octopus and Potato Salad. The Italian Christmas dinner menu often features seafood, especially in the south. If it is Christmas Eve, then it is tradition to have seafood rather than meat. This recipe hails from Puglia; it can be prepared in advance and served in a casserole dish, saving you from having to plate it yourself, which may not always be convenient, especially with appetizers. This delicious salad is made with octopus, boiled potatoes, artichokes, capers, parsley, cipollotto (a type of onion), extra virgin olive oil and lemon…definitely a Mediterranean taste.
Primi – First courses
Tortellini in brodo. Tortellini in (capon) broth is the classic Christmas dish of Emilia-Romagna, but the tradition has spread throughout Italy. Tortellini require a certain skill to prepare, especially in making the dough and folding it to make the signature tortellini shape: in a few words, fold the pasta over the filling to make a triangle, then wrap the triangle around your index finger and squeeze very tightly to close it. For the filling, if you want to do it the traditional way, you should follow the official recipe registered with the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna. According to it, the filling should have pork loin, prosciutto crudo, mortadella from Bologna, Parmigiano Reggiano, eggs and nutmeg.
Variations on the tortellini include anolini and cappelletti, which are made in a similar way, and also eaten in broth.
First courses in the Italian Christmas dinner menu are generally heavy on meat, especially in northern Italy: take for example the ravioli con ripieno di carni miste alla trentina (ravioli filled with Trentino-style mixed meats), or cannelloni di polenta al ragù (tube-shaped polenta filled with ragù meat). But there are also vegetarian options, such as pumpkin tortelli from Lombardy, and tortelloni verdi di ricotta burro e oro (spinach tortelloni filled with ricotta cheese and served with butter and tomato sauce) from Emilia-Romagna; or, for seafood lovers, raschiatelli and vermicide, spaghettini dressed with seafood sauce in Puglia and pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) in Sicily.
Secondi – Second courses
Capitone fritto. Going back to Naples, capitone fritto is a classic second course in the area’s Christmas dinner menu. Capitone is a large, fat eel which, in this recipe, is slowly fried in white and yellow flours.
Seafood secondi are more popular in southern Italy. In the north, the Italian Christmas dinner menu mostly features meat among the second courses (just as for primi). An all-time favorite? Bollito misto. This is a classic northern Italian stew (mainly found in Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and Piedmont), consisting of various cuts of beef, veal, cotechino and a whole hen or capon that are gently simmered for 2–3 hours in an aromatic vegetable broth made with celery, carrot and onion, cloves, parsley, bay leaf, rosemary and sage.
Cappone arrosto. An opulent, gluttonous dish beloved by all meat lovers is the roasted capon. The bird is flavored with herbs such as rosemary and sage, garlic, salt and pepper, greased with lard and cooked in the oven, along with vegetables.
Dolci – Desserts
It may be hard to have any room left at this point for dessert, but you do not want to miss on these sweet treats!
Desserts in the Italian Christmas dinner menu vary widely according to region: panettone and pandoro are the traditional choice in northern Italian regions such as Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. Originally from Milan, panettone has a domed shape, with a soft and airy interior beneath a dark exterior. Traditionally, it contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins. Pandoro, from Verona, has an eight pointed-star shape and it is served dusted with powdered sugar. Both pandoro and panettone are sometimes filled with crema pasticcera or chocolate, making for a real treat.
In Genoa, you will find pandolce genovese, made with flour, water, candied fruit, pine nuts and raisins. Mostaccioli are among the favorite dessert cookies at Christmas time. Typical of Puglia, they are made with flour, sugar, cocoa, almonds, water and cloves. Melted chocolate is spread on top after baking in the oven – yes, hard to resist! Struffoli napoletani is the classic holiday dessert in Naples and all of southern Italy. Made with flour, eggs, butter, sugar, limoncello and lemon, they are fried and decorated with honey, candied orange, pumpkin, citron and colorful sugared almonds.
Moving to Tuscany, there are two classics on the Christmas dinner menu: panforte and cantuccini. Dating back to 13th-century Siena, panforte contains fruits and nuts and resembles a fruitcake. Cantuccini are almond cookies that originated in the city of Prato. Oblong-shaped, they are dry and crunchy and traditionally dipped in sweet Vin Santo wine.
To conclude, a classic Christmas sweet, hailing from Cremona in Lombardy, but popular all over Italy, is torrone. Made with egg whites, honey and sugar, and chock full of toasted almonds, hazelnuts or other types of nuts, this candy is never absent from the holiday table.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas, filled with many Italian delicacies!