When I was a child, I was always fascinated to hear the stories of Christmas traditions in foreign lands. Holiday magic in my own home was often peppered with imaginings of what children in other places would eat, do and see in their homes. When Santa Claus came to our door with an orange and a candy cane (yes, he did…he knocked on our door and came in to check on us!) I thought about his visits across the globe, listening to Christmas wishes in all the languages of the world, smelling the home-scents of interesting families and planning his whirlwind trip to visit all of these places. How would he make the toys they requested? How does he understand all of their wishes? What is it like to access homes of every sort? What magic!
Today I get to write about Christmas traditions in one of the most fascinating countries I’ve visited: Italy! What an incredible place. Having been a “neighborly” set of independent states until unification in the late 1800’s, there is plenty of room here for historic intricacies and celebrations. Italy is also a place of astonishing geographical diversity with natural bounty that matches the range of the lands. With over 350 official wine varieties (and storied estimates of that amount soar from there), there is a bottle to match every meal and custom.
Vincisgrassi (Wild mushroom & prosciutto lasagna) is a bit of mushroom heaven. Porcini and portabello mushrooms make a rich sauce to layer into pasta. Like the dish your mother made, but with exquisite Italian mushrooms and truffle oil…which your mom (unless you are from the region) didn’t use but perhaps you should suggest it this holiday. Bring her some a gift along with the wine of my choice Colle Monteverde – Offida Pecorino D.O.C which which has nice acids but substantial depth, something beautiful and unique to match the dish.
Trentino Alto Adige
On Italy’s border with Austria and Switzerland, this is the land of fresh snow, ski-villas and Christmas idealized. If Santa took a ski trip, he’d fit in perfectly here in this mountainous Alpine region, also known as the Südtirol. Try Tortel-di-Patate which are potato pancakes of South Tyrolean style. In many global traditions, a similar dish is prepared. This version can be made special by adding local cheeses. Pair this with a food friendly Pinot Noir from Peter Zemmer, which is complex and interesting.
Venetian Seafood Salad is made with poached calamari, shrimp, scallops and octopus. The sea food (Frutti di Mare) is blended with a salad of fresh veggies, herbs and olive oil. This is a fresh and luxurious dish that bring to mind the coastal region of the Veneto. Try this with I Stefanini Monte Di Fice Soave Classico Superiore DOCG, a food-friendly white wine made of 100% Garganega from historic vineyards of the region.
Cartellate are traditional Christmas desserts in Puglia. They are made of fried dough fashioned into the shape of roses, which are dunked into mulled wine or honey. These could, of course, be served with mulled wine which is a holiday tradition in many parts of the world. It would also be delicious with a rich red wine such as Copertino DOC (Deominazione di Origine Controllata). Copertino Riserva Red Wine is created by the Cantina Social Cooperativa, a commune in Salento. This wine is made from 95% Negromaro grapes, topped with 5% Malvasia nera grapes.
Panettone, an elegant fruit cake with a distinctive cylinder shape and paper wrapping, is world-famous during the holiday season. This traditional bread calls Lombardy home. Given as gifts or eaten during Christmas celebrations, this treat is relished this time of year. Pair this with a festive bubbly from Franciacorta, such as Bagnadore Franciacorta DOCG Pas Dosè Riserva which is grown organically.
Italian Food Wine Travel
This month our Italian Food Wine and Travel, #ItalianFWT, group celebrates Christmas in Italy with Italian holiday treasures to be discovered. Join my fellow bloggers below and if you catch us in time, chat with us live on Twitter this Saturday December 3rd at 11am EST #ItalianFWT.
Feast on History – Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy: Myth or Tradition?
Culinary Adventures of Camilla – Biscotti di Castagne + Vin Santo Dei Chianti
Avvinare – A Florentine Christmas
L’Occasion – 5 Italian Christmas Dishes and Wine Pairings
The Wining Hour – A Venetian Holiday: Wine, Food,Tradition
The Wine Predator – Italian Holiday Traditions Adapted to California Conditions: 3 dishes with wine