Italian Christmas Food

A Complete Guide To Italian Christmas Food

There’s no better way to celebrate the season than with Italian Christmas foods. We may be a bit biased, but Natale is an exciting Italian holiday and the perfect occasion for cooking up some best-loved family recipes. From the deep fried baccalá and spaghetti with clams from Feast of the Seven Fishes to the memorable baked pasta dishes of Christmas Day, we have everything you need to create a traditional Italian Christmas in your kitchen.
Linguine with clams in shells served on a plate

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Italian Christmas Eve - Feast of the Seven Fishes

In Italy, Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally lighter with no meat and a lot of seafood, while the Italian-American meal has evolved into much more of a feast. Bring on the sword fish, tuna, salmon, octopus salad, smelts, calamari, spaghetti with clam sauce and the famous Italian classic—salted cod, known as baccalà. The Feast of the Seven Fishes can also include other meatless dishes, which vary by region. For example, gnocchi recipes and stuffed pasta are a hit in Northern Italy, where Veneto is known for buckwheat spaghetti in a creamy anchovy sauce. No matter where you celebrate, though, the sweet treats are a certainty: biscotti, pandoro, torrone (nougat candy) and almost always a candied loaf of panettone.

Italian Christmas Day Lunch

The most important of the Natale meals, Christmas Day lunch can last for hours. Unlike Christmas Eve’s meal, Christmas Day is typically meat-based. Natale lunch begins with a classic antipasto spread featuring dry cured meats, salumi, fine Italian cheeses, briny olives, artichokes and more. The first course is pasta that varies by region. In Southern and Central Italy, baked pasta is a must. In Northern Italy, Lasagne Bolognese and filled pasta like manicotti and ravioli are traditional Christmas fare. Next comes the main event, the meat. Roasted veal, baked chicken, sausages or braised beef are common Natale entrées worth celebrating.

Italian Christmas Day - Santo Stefano's Lunch

On December 26th, lunch carries on the Natale festivities. For this meal, more distant relatives and friends are invited. The meal isn’t as indulgent as Christmas lunch, but just as well composed. If there are no new guests to your party, it’s customary to enjoy leftovers, like the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. (Why not try a batch of Fried Baccalà with your leftover salted cod?) While there are no particular culinary traditions, Santo Stefano’s lunch tends to be less elaborate and much more creative. Now is the time to try some unusual pasta dishes or exotic soups. Also, on this day, restaurants are very popular, offering a refreshing change from days in the kitchen.

Italian Christmas Dinner Ideas

In Italy, there is technically no “Christmas dinner.” Christmas Day is celebrated with a lunchtime feast. However, in the U.S., many celebrate the 25th with an Italian Christmas Dinner. For this Italian American, we suggest setting the stage with a fine antipasto or charcuterie spread loaded with cured meats, Italian cheeses, olives, pickled peppers, artichokes and more. Pasta is a must for an Italian Christmas Dinner. Lasagna, Stuffed Manicotti and other cheesy baked pasta dishes are a hit with all ages—this is classic Christmas fare in Southern Italy. Even a simple pasta dish with a light tomato sauce can serve as a tasty side dish for braised meats, Italian sausage or baked chicken entrées.

Italian Christmas Desserts

Don’t forget the sweets! Cakes, cookies, sweet breads and more… the holidays aren’t complete without Italian Christmas desserts. In Italy, there are many classics, including the famous, citrus-studded sweet bread, Panettone, and the sticky homemade nougat candy, Torrone. Tiramisu is another popular dessert. It is creamy and rich with a beautiful layered look. Bonus points for its no-bake status. Of course, there are always plates full of cookies made for enjoying with espresso or tea—from the ornate anise Pizzelle to crispy biscotti.