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Traditional Italian Christmas foods
Tortellini and Ravioli are Favorite Premier Dishes
Best Christmas Italian foods
In Italy Christmas may be almost defined as a family celebration where people go to church open presents and gather at the table for a full course meal. Having been raised in Italy, I have had my share of Christmas celebrations. One of the most looked forward to events was the meal preparation and of course the consumption at the table.
I have grown up in Southern Italy, so I will therefore, depict the culinary specialties of that region. I must admit, an Italian Christmas meal is not for the fussy anorexic eater, rather it may suit the overindulgent or the culinary conoisseure that will enjoy one meal after the other. I must confess that I had to try to skip a few meals boforehand, so to have the extra "capacity" for the event.
A five course meal cannot lack the "antipasto" -the appetizer- There are lots of different antipasto's in Italy. A famous one for Christmas consists of bread slices spread with mayonnaise and topped with caviar or smoked salmon.
Other variants are bruschettas or cold cuts colorfully aranged with green and black olives, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp salad, caponata (a special eggplant mix), pickled vegetables, fried calamari etc. Each family seems to have their favorite.
A traditional Italian christmas will display any hearty meal that gives a sense of richness and celebration. It can be rich backed lasagna, tortellini, ravioli or any other pasta dish that feels hearty and satisfying.
Cotechino with lentil beans are a traditional specialty in the South. Lentil beans are seen around Christmas time as a symbol of money, so they say the more you eat the more money will be coming your way the following year.
Some homes will serve fish instead of meat. In central Italy a special dish with eel may be made. Others will go with dried salted cod that requires a few days of immersion to get tender and less salty before being cooked.
A contorno is a side dish and it usually varies from home to home. Fresh vegetables are often offered such as lentil beans, broccoli, potatoes, zucchini or eggplants. They are served alongside the second dish to basically fill up the plate.
In small Southern towns where traditions seem to linger, grandmas start baking famous cookies called "Buccellati". These cookies are made with basic dough ingredients composed of shortening, eggs, flour and sugar. Most likely these cookies are traditionally filled with a rich almond paste and candied citrus peel, or in its more rustic variant they are filled with raisins, chocolate and dried figs.
Creativity is the key word in making these cookies as they are shaped as a crescent moon and decorated with left over dough cuts. Relatives exchange these on their Christmas visits and a little competition in who makes them better contributes to a vivacious atmosphere
"Panettone" is a traditional sweet that is store bought and comes in creative tin boxes or colorful cartons. This is a large almost bell shaped sweet bread with candied orange peel and raisins. It is sliced vertically and shared after meals on Christmas day.
"Pandoro" is a variant of Panettone and it is a simpler version of the sweet bread. It lacks the raisins but still retains the candied orange. It is typically covered by an abundant layer or powdered sugar.
"Torrone" a sugary paste with almonds, it can of a soft, chewy consistency or rock hard. New flavors have developed such as honey, chocolate covered, liqueur, or orange.
As seen, a Christmas meal in Italy can be very " full-filling", but after all what to expect, since Christmas comes only once a year? In Italy there is a well known saying "Christmas with your family and Easter with whoever". This saying clearly depicts the importance of celebrating the holiday as a big get together of aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives and friends. Homes may feel over crowded on Christmas night in Italy and long tables are especially set to accommodate everyone. However, the general athmosphere is pretty unique and still nowadays, I must admit, I still miss such gatherings when Christmas comes along each year....
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