When I asked our Italian trainee, Arriana, to tell me about Christmas dinner at her house, how her mother prepares it and what dishes she puts on the table, she wrote me this little essay, which I thought was too nice not to share with everyone. Enjoy, and a merry Christmas to all!
Actually, there isn’t just one Italian Christmas dinner, every region has its own customs, traditions, dishes… There are in fact great differences, I guess suppose the only thing we have in common across the country is that we organize big, huge family reunions and we eat a lot. Imagine twenty, twenty-five people sitting around the same table, mostly drunk and but very well-dressed. As always, we’re the loudest but fancy people in the world, especially during the holidays.
Clearly this year is going to be different, but for this very reason I think that it’s the best moment to indulge in memories and think about the good old days, when Christmas was really the most exciting time of the year! I’ll tell you about Ligurian traditions, because I was born here and these are the only traditions I really know. Let’s go!
Christmas Eve: the “cooking-day”
The 24 of December is the cooking-day: every mother, every grandmother, everyone who’s able to hold a ladle in his hand usually spend the whole day in the kitchen.
Later I will tell you about the cooking, at the end of the day almost everything is pronto and the house is filled with the wonderful scent of Christmas!
The Ligurian Christmas dinner
Families are reunited for the longest meal of the year starting at 12 AM, it will probably last till 4 or 5 PM. and that’s why there are so many courses.
Which appetizers do we like best?
Usually we start with appetizers: cold cuts, cheese, Russian salad, canapés, savory pies, wine…
Why do we call it Primo?
After that (when everybody is already full), it’s time to bring the first course or Primo as we call it: ravioli al ragù first of all, but also other kind of stuffed pasta.
What are our special main course dishes?
Then there are two special dishes that are typical here, cima and cappon magro. They are both really tasty and elaborate, so we cook them only at this very time of the year, they’ve become a Christmas symbol. Cima is the best known Ligurian speciality, it’s a piece of meat filled with eggs, peas, carrots, onions, pine nuts, herbs and cheese. We serve it cut into thin slices, it looks colourful and actually it’s amazing to eat, everyone loves it.
Cappon magro is the most complex Ligurian speciality to cook, it takes five hours to make it, even if it’s quite a ‘poor’ dish, made from leftovers (vegetables, fish and galettes). It looks like a triumph, it’s beautiful and delicious, I think it has a more refined taste than cima.
What is for dessert?
Finally we arrive at the desert, the panettone alla genovese cannot be missed! It’s a panettone full of sultanas and pine nuts. Personally, I don’t like it, too many sultanas, but I know it’s an ancient tradition to bake it and eat it together. If you are still alive by then eat some dried fruit, torrone, fruit gelee or chocolate.
This is what I would call a “traditional Ligurian Christmas dinner”, I hope I have spurred your curiosity, Liguria is such a magical place, especially when it comes to food.