A great traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu

Written by on December 23, 2020 in Gastronomy, La Cucina Italiana, Recipes

Lovely white and silver table decoration for Christmas Eve - Great traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu

What do Italians eat on Christmas Eve – La Vigilia?

Dishes and traditions at Christmas are very different throughout the Italian Peninsula. In the North, a Christmas lunch on the 25th is a must. But in the Centre and in the South, Italians celebrate on Christmas Eve with a “Cenone della Vigilia” with all the family on the evening of the 24th.

What kind of dishes do Italians eat on Christmas Eve?

A Christmas Eve dinner often focuses more on fish than meat. So bring on the tuna, salmon, octopus salad, calamari and the famous Italian classic, dried cod in sea salt, known as baccala.

Apart from a fish feast, the menu might also include some pasta and other dishes without meat.

Generally a full Italian menu starts off with an aperitivo together with or before some antipasti. Then a primo piatto, followed by a secondo with a side dish – contorno. After that a pudding – il dolce. And then finally a caffè with a grappa or two.

menu for Christmas Eve - Great traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu

Our traditional Christmas Eve menu this year:

As an aperitivo we can’t resist a Negroni, a wicked and deeply satisfying vermut based cocktail to get things going.

For the antipasti we have involtini di crespelle con salmone e formaggio  – smoked salmon and cream cheese rolled up in pancakes. Or insalata di polipo e patate – octopus and potato salad

The primo we are going for is a zuppa alla Valdostana. Or staying with the fish theme, a classic spaghetti alle vongole – Spaghetti with clams

Our main course or secondo is orata al sale – orata (sea bream) baked in sea salt with tomato salsa. Served with a side dish – contorno of cippole al forno – roasted onions.

And for dessert, what else but tiramisu, Anita’s speciality (editor Anita, not Nona Anita, although I am sure Nonna Anita also makes a great tiramisu!).

With coffee we are going to offer some cannoli, those famous sweets from Sicily. And maybe our coffees will be corrected with something from the back of the drinks cupboard?

How to prepare these lovely dishes?

negroni cocktail

A Negroni is made with 1 part vermut rosso, 1 part gin and 1 part Campari. Stirred, not shaken, poured over ice with a slice of orange. For a slightly less powerful and lighter version go for an Americano which replaces the gin with a splash of soda water.


smoked salmon and pancake rolls - Great traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu

To prepare the involtini di crespelle you will need 125g flour, 250g milk, 2 eggs, ½ tsp salt, 3 tbsp   butter, 400g smoked salmon thinly sliced, 200g cream cheese like Philadelphia or fresh cheese like ricotta, 2 tbsp fresh cream, juice of ½ a lemon, some dill, black pepper.

Whisk the milk with the eggs, flour and salt. Let it rest for approx. 15 minutes. Melt a little butter in a non-stick pan, pour some batter mixture into the pan. Cook 4 pancakes, one at a time over medium heat, making sure to turn each one when the first side is slightly brown. Let them cool down.

Finely chop the dill. Mix the fresh cheese with the cream and lemon juice and season with salt, pepper and dill. Spread 1-2 tablespoons of dill cream on each pancake. Place 2-3 slices of salmon on each. Roll them up well, then cut them into approx. 3 cm thick rolls. Secure with wooden sticks and serve with a garnish of dill sprigs.


octopus and potato salad

For the insalata di polipo e patate, the ingredients are 1kg octopus, 600g potatoes, some garlic flavoured oil, parsley, salt and pepper, a couple of bay leaves, 1 glass of white wine, juice of 1 lemon.

Put the cleaned octopus in a pot with plenty of cold water, the white wine and the bay leaf. Then turn up the heat and cook for about 20 minutes calculating from the time when the water starts to boil. Turn off the heat under the octopus and let it cool completely in its cooking water. Meanwhile, cook the peeled potatoes in boiling water until they are soft then cut them into pieces and put them in a bowl.

When the octopus is completely cooled down, drain it and cut into pieces. Put the pieces in the bowl together with the potatoes, add plenty of garlic flavoured oil, the juice of one lemon, salt and freshly chopped parsley. Mix them well together and serve!


sapgetti with clams

This classical version of spaghetti alle vongole requires 1kg clams, 300g spaghetti, 100ml white wine, 1 clove garlic, some pepperoncino (chilli), olive oil, salt and pepper.

Clean the clams well! The next important step is to soak the clams in cold water with sea salt for about 12 hours. The ratio for the salty water is 70 ml of sea salt for 1 litre of water. Drain them and run under cold water again to make sure the clams are completely clean. Put the clams in a deep frying pan with the garlic and white wine over high heat. Let the alcohol evaporate, then seal with a lid until the clams are completely open. It will take about 3 minutes. Drain them but save the water (sauce) that will be used later.

Heat some more olive oil in the same deep frying pan and brown the garlic with a chilli pepper over low heat, add the clams and the cooking water and cook for a few minutes.

Finely chop some parsley. Cook the spaghetti in salted water and remove when ‘al dente’. Drain the spaghetti and put in the pot with the clams, mix for a few seconds, serve hot with a sprinkle of pepper and parsley.


Seabass covered in sea salt

Orata al sale – sea bream in salt is a recipe full of the flavours of the Mediterranean Sea. This ancient type of preparation allows slow cooking and prevents the flesh from drying out. At the end of cooking the salt crust will have finished its task and therefore will be taken off.

For this dish, 1 sea bream, 500g coarse sea salt, 3 big tomatoes, 2 tbsp olive oil, tabasco sauce, basil leaves or dried basil.

For this type of baking it is not necessary to scale the fish, otherwise its skin would become too thin and would absorb the salt. So gut the sea bass, rinse it under running water and dry it well with an absorbent kitchen paper. You can place inside the fish a couple of slices of lemon and add some aromatic herbs to the sea salt.

Arrange the fish in a large ovenproof dish. Cover the sea bass evenly with the coarse sea salt and press lightly with your hands to compact everything. Place the dish in a preheated oven at 180 ° C and cook for about 45 minutes. The fish will be ready when a golden and compact crust is formed on the surface.

In the meantime, prepare the tomato salsa. Washing the tomatoes and blanch them in boiling water for a minute. When they have cooled, remove the skin and cut them into slices. Remove the seeds and cut into small pieces. Collect the pulp in a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 4-5 drops of Tabasco, a few basil leaves, the juice of half a lemon and salt. Let it rest in the fridge.

Remove the sea bass from the oven and partially break the sea salt cover with the handle of a knife. Remove the majority of the salt from the top of the fish and serve it directly on the table in its ovenproof dish, with the tomato salsa on the side. Serve with the roasted onions and some mixed green salad.

onions baked in the oven

Cippole al forno requires 1kg onions, salt and pepper and some olive oil.

Preheat the oven 180 ° C. Peel the onions and blanch them in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain them and cut them in half. Arrange them on a previously oiled baking tray. Add salt and pepper to taste and drizzle the onions with olive oil.  Bake them in the oven for about an hour. If they are getting burned, cover them with a sheet of aluminium foil.

cannoli the delicious Italian dessert filled with ricotta cheese - Great traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu

This cannoli recipe is by Chef Aldo Zilli at the event of The Great Italian Food Journey in the UK. The event was organised by the Italian National Tourist Board together with the National Geographic Traveller and National Geographic Food magazines.

Ingredients are300g plain flour, 50g caster sugar, ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda, ½ tsp ground cinnamon, 1 lemon (zested), 4 tbsp marsala wine, 1 egg – separated, 60g butter – melted, flour for dusting, 1.5- 2.0l sunflower oil for frying, icing sugar for dusting.

And for the filling, 500g ricotta cheese, 80g caster sugar, 70g dark chocolate – chopped, 50g candid cherries, 50g candid peel.

You will need to have for making this recipe: cannoli moulds, a piping bag and a pasta machine. Also a 10 cm diameter round cutter.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl, then put in the fridge until ready to use.

To make the cannoli shells, sift the flour into a bowl then stir in the sugar, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, then add the lemon zest, marsala and egg yolk (reserving the egg white for later). Add the melted butter and mix until thoroughly combined. Tip onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour and knead for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Cover the dough with an upturned bowl and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Pour the oil into a large saucepan and set over a medium heat. While the oil is heating, divide the dough into three equal sections, then use a rolling pin to roll out each section into a 5mm-thick rectangle. Pass a section of the dough through the pasta machine on the widest setting, then fold it in half and roll it through again. Continue rolling until you reach the thinnest setting. Keep your work surface and dough dusted with flour to avoid sticking. Repeat the same process with the other two sections of dough.

Lay out the rolled dough on your work surface and use the 10 cm round cutter to stamp out discs (you should be able to get around 15-20 in total). Wrap the discs around the cannoli moulds and brush each join with a dab of the egg white to seal (you may have to do this in batches, depending on how many cannoli moulds you have).

Once the oil is very hot (test it before), gently lower in the cannoli moulds and fry for around 1 min until golden and crisp. Use tongs to carefully remove each tube, draining any excess oil back into the pan. Set the tubes on kitchen paper to cool slightly while still in their moulds. Once cool enough to handle, slide the cannolis off the moulds. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, making sure the oil stays at a steady high heat throughout. Leave to cool.

Scoop the filling into a piping bag and fill each cannoli shell. Dust with icing sugar and serve.


espresso coffee with grappa

Caffé corretto was born in Italy where the coffee is already delicious. So the habit of “correcting” coffee by adding a little liqueur was not to improve its taste. Originally it was the workers of northern Italy, who used to add a drop of grappa to their coffee during their breaks in order to warm up. It did not take long for this great habit to spread throughout the peninsula, differing region by region the type of liqueur used. We usually go for grappa but sambuca or cognac are also popular.

Buon Natale & Buon Appetito!

You will find more about Negroni cocktails in our article about  “Aperitivo“.

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