Travel with us on a journey through the flavors of traditional Italian Christmas food, and find out the most famous (and tasty) regional recipes!
Christmas festivities used to be the time of the year when people ate plenty, highlighting with cooking the little they had. Now the world has changed, as is the food; but it’s thanks to dishes and products of the regional tradition that we can still rediscover the sense of celebration, fun, and the joy of being together.
For this reason, we are about to discover the traditional Italian Christmas food traveling around Italy in search of 20 typical Christmas recipes. We’ll find the most sincere and authentic flavors of the whole country, feeling even today like children eager to live a happy Christmas lunch with the family.
A tour of Italy in 20 regional recipes discovering the traditional Italian Christmas food
Our journey to find out the secrets of Italian Christmas food represents not only a gastronomic experience, but also a cultural melting pot that draws heavily from the traditions of every single region of Italy.
Behind every dish that we’ll discover, in fact, there are hidden curiosities and legends: for this reason, our voyage will not only be a tour through the flavors of traditional regional recipes, but also an itinerary inside Italian history and culture.
Perhaps no other place in the world can boast the same variety of products and typical foods, among colors, scents and extraordinary tastes which will have as background the magical atmosphere that Christmas holidays bring everywhere in Italy.
20. A journey through the traditional Italian Christmas food: Zuppa alla Valpellinese
Our journey through the traditional Italian Christmas food starts from the North, specifically from the Aosta Valley. In this region with a beautiful nature, historic villages, spas and picturesque markets, the Christmas festivities are highly regarded and very heartfelt.
This passion is particularly evident at the table: one of the inevitable recipes during Christmas lunches and dinners is the Seupa à la Vapelenentse (Zuppa alla Valpellinese): hot and crunchy bread toasted in butter and savoy cabbage covered with fontina cheese and melted butter, all immersed in the warm embrace of a tasty beef broth.
It’s a traditional and delicious dish, perfect to warm up during the long winter evenings, which tells a lot about the conviviality typical of high mountain territories.
19. Bagna Cauda
We are now in Piedmont, a land that boasts excellent food and wine products and a long tradition of extraordinary recipes. One of these in particular is unmissable on Christmas tables: Bagna Cauda.
Literally meaning "hot sauce", this classic Piedmontese winter dish is prepared by cooking and letting garlic and anchovy fillets flake off in extra virgin olive oil. To keep the heat, the final preparation is served in a typical crock dishes called fujot.
This recipe has been the emblem of the rural culture of Piedmont since the Middle Ages, despite the fact that ingredients such as anchovies and oil are not local products, at least today. In the past centuries, however, in the southern area of the region olive trees were cultivated; while anchovies were brought to Piedmont perhaps by the Saracens, perhaps by the Occitan Jews, or more likely by salt merchants who traded in this territory from time immemorial.
18. Natalini in Brodo
One of the most typical Italian Christmas food is the recipe of the traditional Natalini in brodo, characteristic of the beautiful Liguria. The Natalini, locally called Natalin in to Broddo, are a sort of long macaroni to be enjoyed in a tasty capon broth, with the accompaniment of sausage presented in form of small meatballs.
It’s a dish that fully represents the true meaning of the holidays, and in fact it’s generally found only in this particular time of the year.
In Genoa, Natalini also have an auspicious meaning: to be precise, it’s the sausage added as an accompaniment to be considered a good luck charm, because traditionally it represent the palanche, which in Ligurian dialect means "money" (the palanche were copper coins once in use between Liguria, Veneto and Tuscany).
17. Torrone Cremonese
If Panettone is undoubtedly one of the typical recipes of Lombardy, and probably among the Christmas products it’s the most known and replicated in Italy, Torrone Cremonese is certainly no less, both for taste and for historical tradition.
According to legend, in fact, this cake was accordingly named in the 15th century, during the celebrations for the wedding between Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, and took the form of the famous Torrazzo, the bell tower symbol of the city of Cremona.
Many centuries have passed, but even today Torrone, which is prepared with egg white, honey, sugar and almonds, is an essential element during Christmas holidays, a real classic that can not miss on the tables not only of the city of Cremona, but of all Lombardy.
16. Goulash Trentino
A recipe from Eastern Europe that has become a traditional Italian Christmas food in the beautiful landscapes of Trentino Alto-Adige.
Goulash comes from Hungary and is a tasty spicy beef stew (gulya means “beef herd") that in Trentino is declined through a specific regional preparation which uses typical Italian ingredients: while the meat is stewed and cooked slowly, tomato, onions and wine are added.
The result is a peculiar dish that represents the entire region: a poor but incredibly tasty recipe, perfect to warm up during cold evenings of the end of the year and to spend Christmas holidays in the warmth of your house together with your loved ones.
Rival of Panettone and gastronomic symbol of Veneto, Pandoro is a typical Christmas dessert, unmissable on the tables of the entire region.
Although very similar products date back to the time of Imperial Rome, modern Pandoro was officially born only at the end of 19th century in Verona. Ingredients to prepare it are very common: butter, flour, eggs, sugar and yeast. But there are many processing steps that make the recipe not so easy to replicate.
The creator of Pandoro, Domenico Melegatti, put up for grabs 1000 Lire for those who had guessed the exact original recipe, but no one was able to win this challenge.
14. Brovada e Muset
In winter Friuli is particularly enchanting, offering wonderful landscapes, endless activities on the beautiful ski slopes and, of course, tasty and unmissable recipes of the regional tradition.
One of these is Brovada and Muset, a classic of Friuli Christmas cuisine.
It’s a dish based on white turnips and muzzle: the outer leaves are removed from the turnips, which are soaked with black grape skins, salt and water mixed with wine or vinegar, and then left to ferment for almost two months, thus easing the strong taste of turnip and giving way to a fragrance of marc.
Musetto, instead, is a sausage that contains only parts of the pig’s snout, similar to Cotechino but without the addition of pork rind.
13. Cappelletti in brodo
In Emilia-Romagna the pasta is sacred, throughout the whole year and especially at Christmas, when you can’t miss a traditional dish such as Cappelletti in Brodo.
This stuffed egg pasta (filled with meat, Parmesan and ricotta, or even pumpkin pulp) is part of the regional history since the 13th century: over time it was prepared (and appreciated!) even at the court of Este, thus becoming a noble food, to be enjoyed during the holidays.
Today, however, the Cappelletti in Brodo represent a dish that should be tasted within family, and that through its flavors is able to transmit all the love for your dear ones that at Christmas should never miss.
For the Romagna side of the region, it’s also interesting to note a "Christmas" use of the classic Piadina, which can be shaped like a Christmas tree, becoming a perfect appetizer (or dessert, depending on how it’s filled) for lunches or dinners during the holidays!
12. Panforte di Siena
Cacciucco, Arrosto, Snails, Ribollita and so on. The typical winter foods that we can find on the tables of Tuscany are numerous and tasty. But let’s focus on the sweet section to talk about one of the Christmas recipes of the regional tradition not to be missed: Panforte di Siena.
Panforte has a thousand-year history, even if in ancient times it was just a sort of focaccia stuffed with honey. It is said that it was in the middle of 16th century, during a siege of the city of Siena, that Suor Berta, Mother Abbess of the monastery, added almonds and candied fruit to the recipe, so as to better feed the fighters.
Today Panforte is prepared using also cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and a syrup of honey and sugar.
Umbria offers fantastic places, unmissable experiences and excellent food and wine products. At Christmas, what could be more traditional than the recipe of Panpepato?
Chocolate, dried fruit and, of course, pepper are the main ingredients of this product that has several variants scattered throughout central Italy: the Terni version received the IGP designation in 2020. This dessert of peasant origin has a secular history that seems to date back to 1500, immediately after the introduction of chocolate in Europe.
The Gingerbread Man is also the protagonist of a famous children’s fairy tale, an additional folk note that perfectly fits into the Christmas spirit inspired by this tasty product.
10. Cappone Arrosto
Even if it's true that Olive Ascolane are perhaps the most known product of the Marche region, and are also ideal as an appetizer during Christmas lunches and dinners, we can’t overlook another traditional recipe that is a real must for the Christmas cuisine of this beautiful territory: Cappone Arrosto.
Capon is a must during the winter holidays, not only in the Marche. Here, however, there’s a specific version that involves the use of truffle as a filling, which blends very well with the softness of this type of meat, making its taste even more distinctive and inviting.
In addition, capon farms in the Marche are among the best in Italy at density level per square meter and for feeding. This is just another reason why this product is unmissable on the tables of the region between December 24 and January 6.
9. Abbacchio al Forno
Abbacchio al Forno is a dish that is traditionally eaten during holidays in Rome and throughout the whole Lazio. "Abbacchio" is in fact the Lazio term for the lamb. It’s a product that has very ancient origins, closely related to the agricultural tradition of the territory.
Born as a poor dish, over time it has turned into a classic regional recipe, which today is commonly eaten both at Christmas and Easter.
Lamb is a meat that should be appreciated when it is still very hot, at the peak of its flavor, and is served with a side of tasty potatoes, cooked in the same pan in order to absorb the essence.Discover the magic of Christmas in Rome with the Visit Rome Pass❯
8. Tacchino alla Canzanese
From the hill where the picturesque village of Canzano stands, this traditional Italian Christmas food has spread throughout Abruzzo, and today the Tacchino alla Canzanese is an unmissable dish on every Christmas table of Teramo.
It is told that one day of the mid-19th century, two canzanesi farmers prepared a turkey broth in the morning, letting it rest in anticipation of a dinner with their friends. After many hours, the broth formed a jelly that was used to make the meat richer and tastier.
In addition to the use of jelly, there’s also another fundamental characteristic of the Tacchino alla Canzanese: it’s necessary to use the meat of a female turkey, which is more tender and with a stronger flavor. Thanks to these two elements, jelly and turkey, and to the intuition of the farmers of Canzano, a recipe was born that has become over time a true regional gastronomic institution.
7. Frascateglie con Polenta
Frascateglie con Polenta: a traditional Christmas recipe from Molise, a region as small in size as excellent in its gastronomic products.
It’s basically a dish made with polenta and pork liver sausages. The pork is a very present product in Molise cuisine, which consists mainly of poor and simple dishes, based on the ancient pastoral and peasant tradition typical of the inland areas of central Italy.
It’s a cuisine that, however, as demonstrated by recipes such as Frascateglie, can offer delicious, decisive and intense flavors, also through a significant use of aromatic herbs and spices.
6. Minestra Maritata
Here we are, in a land whose beauties and traditions are already extraordinary every day of the year; but at Christmas, Naples and Campania give even greater emotions, and transmit even more of the magic of Italian holidays. Especially in the gastronomic field.
We could list so many typical Christmas recipes of Campania. One in particular is the Minestra Maritata (or better, in local dialect: Menestra Ammaritata), so called for the way in which the ingredients perfectly blend with each other.
It’s a dish that cannot be missed at Christmas, and in general in the festive periods, on the tables of Neapolitans, even if there isn’t a unique recipe but rather many different variations depending on the individual traditions of each city.
However, there are some essential ingredients, such as seasonal vegetables like cabbage or kale, escarole and chicory, to be boiled in a tasty meat broth composed of pork rind, leg, sausage and ribs.
Cartellate is a typical recipe of Apulia, consumed in the Christmas period and in general during holidays. It’s a fried pastry with a circular shape, which according to tradition recalls the baby headbands in which the Holy Child was wrapped after his birth (or the crown of thorns of the Crucifixion, when this product is prepared for Easter).
Still today, the etymology of the name is rather uncertain: perhaps it derives from the particular shape of the cake, or maybe from the Greek "kartallos", which means "basket": in fact it’s thought that Cartellate could have a Greek origin, dating back to the 6th century B.C.
An aura of mystery that contributes to the charm of this pastry. But, above all, it’s his excellent and particular taste (in the dough is used cooked must) to make it a product not to be missed for everyone in Apulia, and not onlythere, at the end of Christmas meal.
4. Pettole Lucane
Pettole are a traditional Lucan food to be consumed within family during Christmas meals. It’s a recipe that perfectly expresses all the typical conviviality of Basilicata, a land where Christmas traditions, like for example the representation of live nativity scenes, are held in high regard.
Precisely, the recipe of Pettole Lucane consists in the preparation of a sort of shortbread donut which is left to rise before being fried in oil.
There is both a salty version, made with the use of the extraordinary products of the region, such as cheeses and meats; and a sweet one, that includes the addition of honey.
3. Pasta con Alici e Mollica
Now we arrive in Calabria, a land of traditions and simplicity, also with regard to Christmas recipes. But it’s a simplicity that lacks nothing of inebriating aromas and flavors; a simplicity able to describe all the thousand facets of this beautiful and complex territory.
Pasta con Alici e Mollica (Muddrica) di pane tostato (toasted bread) is a first course that can not miss at Christmas, especially in the area of Cosenza (although the recipe is widespread in much of the South).
It’s a dish born from the poorest classes, as evidenced by the crumb of bread put on pasta, generally spaghetti, to give crunchiness to the plate. For this reason, for its frankness and simplicity, and because every taste takes you back to childhood, it’s an ideal recipe to enjoy in company during Christmas holidays.
2. Pasta 'Ncasciata
A dish to enjoy on holidays in the wonderful Sicily, especially in Messina, where this recipe is a must. The Pasta 'Ncasciata is a kind of baked pasta and a recipe also made famous by the writer Andrea Camilleri: his most known character, inspector Montalbano, was very greedy of this plate.
If its name refers to the terracotta pan on which the pasta was once cooked, or to the presence inside it of caciocavallo, we can not say for sure. What is certain is that this is a traditional Sicilian dish to be enjoyed avidly during Christmas lunch.
As type of pasta, macaroni are generally used; while the filling (net of variations that are present within the regional territory) involves the use of salami, caciocavallo, Sicilian pecorino cheese, fried eggplant and peas. Simple and local ingredients, for a complex and extraordinary set of flavors: Montalbano guarantees!
1. Culurgiones de Casu
Let’s conclude our journey among the traditional Italian Christmas food by flying in the magical Sardinia, a place of great gastronomic culture and extraordinary dishes.
In Sardinia, at Christmas, the Culurgiones de Casu take the lion’s share as a first course typical of the holidays. The culurgiones are like ravioli made of wheat flour, handmade and filled with Sardinian pecorino cheese, accompanied by a tomato sauce.
Also in this case, it’s the victory of the simplicity of a rustic and wild land, a simplicity that enhances the tasty flavor of local ingredients and that leads us to live a Christmas lunch or dinner under the banner of the traditional values of this beautiful territory.