The Christmas feast is served

The holiday season is  a moment of social exchange, an affirmation, and renewal of family identity. This is even more so in Southern Italy, the cradle of the Mediterranean diet. Here, eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities. We have already seen the typical dishes that characterize the Christmas menus in Northern and Central Italy.

Let’s now travel south to reveal the recipes that will bring together families in this wonderful part of the Bel Paese.

Pettole (Puglia) – Christmas eve in the south of Italy is not complete without pettole. They are soft yet crunchy dumplings of fried leavened dough. The four simple ingredients – flour, water, yeast, and salt – must be kneaded to bring together the dough until it is smooth and elastic. This may take up to 15 minutes. Afterward, the dough must be set aside to leaven for at least 2 hours. They may be enjoyed simply as they are, or filled with capers, oregano, and anchovies, but also shelled prawns, cime di rapa, and ricotta.

Minestra Maritata (Campania) – Literally ‘wedded soup’, the name has nothing to do with brides and grooms. Instead, it refers to the marriage of meat and vegetables to create a tasty and rich soup that defines Christmas, especially in Naples. The custom dates back at least to the 15th century, but there is no single recipe for it, each family creates its own Minestra Maritata. What is essential for this leafy soup is to add different types of vegetables and cuts of meat. There is always a base of onions, carrots, and celery to which it is possible to add broccoli leaves, escarole, chicory, and/or cabbage. Variety is the key also on the meat front: beef, pork, chicken, sausages, ham, almost anything will do.

Baccalà Arracanato (Molise) – Salted codfish is an ingredient present in typical Christmas menus in most Italian regions, but used in very different ways. In Molise, on Christmas Eve, it is traditionally cooked au gratin. Breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, oregano, raisins, pine nuts, and walnuts enhance this codfish recipe. Families that have a fireplace still prepare it as it was in the past. The salted codfish is soaked overnight in water to soften it and rinse away part of the salt. Then, cut into pieces, it is placed in a pan covered with a mix of the other ingredients. The  closed pan is then put inside the fireplace and cooked under the ash. 

Fichi Chini (Calabria) – Figs are at the heart of Calabrian gastronomy. And this holiday season recipe is their celebration. Naturally dried figs – a traditional preservation method – are filled with almonds, walnuts, chocolate, and candied fruits. Two figs are open in half are set to form a cross, filled, and covered with two other ones to form a cross, the Christian symbol. Families prepare Fichi Chini at home and give them to friends and relatives.

(Ilona Catani Scarlett)

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