This year, quite unusual (maybe because it’s not a typical year for me), I spent Christmas holidays in Italy.
Instead of a Christmas tree I prepared decorations of picea branches, despite traditional Polish dishes I cooked Italian risotto with funghi porcini (you can find my recipe below) and as a bonus I was enjoying wonderful views and warm, sunny weather…
My Polish friends often ask me about the Italian way of celebrating Christmas, and I always respond that from my experience it’s quite similar to Poland, but here people take it much easier than in Poland: less crazy cleaning, less crazy cooking… the Christmas period is not only a time dedicated to the family, because now people often meet up with friends, and those who can afford it take days off to go skiing or to lie on the beach in some warm country.
In Poland, Christmas Eve dinner is the most important time. In Italy, it’s pranzo natalizio: On December 25th, the whole family gets together to eat an abundant lunch at home or in the restaurant. Dishes are simple and change from one region to another. In Piedmont, small dumplings (agnolotti) stuffed with meat and vegetables are the most popular these days. In Lazio and in Tuscany, other type of dumplings (cappelletti) are the first choice too, but served in broth. In Sardinia, a lamb with potatoes and typical bread carasau is a traditional Christmas dish, while in Campania, Molise, Calabria they eat different types of fish.
However, independently from the region, the real king of Italian Christmas is Panettone, a sweet bread loaf mainly stuffed with raisins and candied orange (although it can be filled with chocolate as well). Because of its laborious and complicated baking process, people prefer to buy it than to prepare it at home. The price oscillates from 3 € (industrial) to 15 € (artisan) per 1 kg. Pandoro (it’s similar to Panettone but made with a different type of dough, dusted with icing sugar, and normally without filling) is another famous Italian Christmas sweet.
A Christmas Crib, or the nativity scene, is another very characteristic Italian Christmas symbol. Presepi decorate hoses, churches, hospitals, and are built in cities and in little towns. Figures, stable, artificial moss – everything that's needed to create a nativity scene you can do yourself or it can be bought in supermarkets or stationary shops.
And below you will find my Christmas inspiration – a simple and fast risotto with delicious funghi porcini.
Risotto with funghi porcini
20 g of dried mushrooms (funghi porcini)
350 g of rice
3 garlic cloves
0,5 l of stock
1 tablespoon olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tablespoon of butter
200 g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Served with: white dry wine like Chardonnay
30 minutes before cooking, soak the dried mushrooms in warm water. Then dry them (but don’t pour out the obtained brown infusion!), chop mushrooms into small pieces. In a small pot prepare the stock. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, add sliced garlic and fry for 1 min, then add funghi porcini and fry for another 1 min., then pour in rice. As it cooks keep stirring so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Poor one ladle of stock and one ladle of infusion, continue stirring until absorbed and repeat until the rice is fully cooked. Add some salt. At the end take the saucepan off the heat, add butter, stir well and wait for about 2 minutes before serving. Add the Parmesan cheese directly to the dish or sprinkle on your plate.
I’m Polish blogger and freelance journalist tasting “la dolce vita” by traveling around Piedmont. As Italia is my passion since the childhood I’m happy having the chance to discover the kingdom of great cuisine and probably the best wines in the world, but also charming little towns and interesting history. My blog Bel Piemonte (available also in Polish and in Italian) was born to show the beauty of this region and to encourage others to discover this part of the Apennine Peninsula.Website: www.belpiemonte.com/en/