Christmas is without a doubt one of the most important holidays in the European calendar. For many Europeans it is a magic time that lights up long winter nights and warms the hearts of children and adults alike. And it is a time of joyful moments shared with family and friends, singing Christmas carols and enjoying delicious culinary delights.
In our “Christmas in Europe” series we will take you to some European Union countries, presenting a selection of unique Christmas traditions and yummy recipes.
Are you ready? Then let’s go to Italy and enjoy mouth-watering Panettone and a glass of mulled wine!
The 8th of December marks the true beginning of Christmas in Italy. It is the celebration of the Immaculate Conception, the same day the Christmas tree goes up, as well as the Presepio (nativity scene with figures handmade from materials like wood, terracotta or metal). This also marks the official countdown to Christmas, where the birth of baby Jesus is celebrated on the 24th of December with dinner and midnight mass. After the midnight mass, Italians of all faiths gather in their local Piazza, drinking mulled wine, and exchanging gifts with friends.
The next day families reunite to enjoy a long Christmas lunch and sharing presents. This day of decadence concludes with playing card games, as well as visting friends to share drinks and Panettone (a traditional Italian dessert bread/cake).
Christmas in Italy is celebrated with two main meals, Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch. At Christmas Eve dinner, for religious reasons only fish is served. This means dinner is a sea of seafood and shellfish, dishes specific to each region, as well as Panettone.
At Christmas lunch, meat is reincluded on the menu with typical dishes including:
tortellini in brodo (a pasta based broth), capon, chicken meatloaf, roast turkey, boiled beef with salsa verde and Russian Salad (made with steamed vegetables and a mayonaisse dressing). Desserts include more Panettone, Pandoro (a plain version of Panettone dusted with icing sugar) and Torrone (Nougat). Again, dishes vary across the provinces.
For Italians, Christmas is a tradition and celebration of both food and family that comes together at the Christmas table. Try adding a taste of Italy to your Christmas with these two delicious recipes. Buon Natale a tutti!
Recipe by Panificio Donnini&Manzotto, Recanati, Marche, Italy
*Starter Dough (Biga) | Leavening/Fermentation 4 – 8 hours
80 gms ‘0’ or ‘00’ Flour
15 gms beer yeast
40 gms water
Dough One | Leavening/Fermentation 4 – 8 hours
80 gms Starter Dough*
260 gms flour (60% ‘0’ or ‘00’, 40% regular)
70 gms butter
70 gms sugar
2 egg yolks
170 gms water
Add ingredients to the Starter Dough (Biga) in the following order: water, flour, yolks, sugar and butter in pieces. Knead for 30 minutes.
Dough Two | Leavening/Fermentation 4 – 6 hours
Dough One with 60 gms of flour (60% ‘0’ or ‘00’, 40% regular)
3 gms salt
20 gms melted butter
20 gms sugar
10 gms honey
2 egg yolks
170 gms raisins
85 gms candied citron
85 gms candied orange
Cooking essences of your preference
Add ingredients to Dough One in the following order: honey, salt, sugar, yolks and melted butter.
Knead for 40 minutes. Add the candied fruits, raisins and essences.
Knead by hand for a few minutes, then rest the dough for 45 minutes.
Add the final dough mixture into the Panettone baking tin. Make a cross cut on top of the dough and add a little square of butter. Heat in the oven at 180 degrees for one hour.
1 litre of full bodied red wine
200 gms sugar
½ a grated nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
Cut the lemon and orange rinds avoiding the white layer.
In a pan add the sugar, citrus rinds, spices and then the wine right at the end.
Set the pan on the stove and slowly bring to boil. Allow to boil for five minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the stove and bring a flame to the wine carefully to avoid scalding yourself. The alcohol content in the wine will catch fire, let it burn until the flame goes out. Once the flame goes out, filter the wine and serve piping hot.