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Italian Christmas meal: What do Italians eat at Christmas?

Italy is known for its good cuisine. Therefore, a richly laid table cannot be missing at Christmas. Traditionally in Italy, Christmas is celebrated with the family either with a big Christmas Eve dinner (it. il cenone della Vigilia) on December 24, especially in the south, or with a Christmas lunch (it. il pranzo di Natale) on December 25, especially in the north. What is eaten at a typical Christmas feast?


Der Cenone della Vigilia: Sample menu

Christmas Eve dinner traditionally should not contain meat, so fish is very common. But which fish? Here is a sample menu for an Italian Christmas Eve dinner from the cooking blog Chicco di mais. Of course, there are several suggestions made for each course, which you can choose and combine according to your preferences. Each dish has a direct link to the original recipe.


As an appetizer you can serve golden fried anchovies, a “false” fish made of tuna and potatoes or mussel sauté with croutons.

il primo

As a first course you can prepare quite a few recipes with pasta, such as spaghetti with anchovies or linguine with mussels. An alternative suggestion is risotto with salmon, but it is suitable for few guests, because risotto requires a lot of attention during cooking.

il secondo e il contorno

As a second course, stockfish is very typical. Other suggestions are orata fillets with citrus or gratinated squid rings. As a side dish to the fish you could serve potato or fennel (marinated or gratinated), which is quite suitable as a side dish to the fish.

Der Pranzo di Natale: sample menu with regional map

For Christmas lunch, traditionally the menu must be very rich: a good appetizer, a delicious first course of pasta and then meat as a second course.
For the Pranzo di Natale there are very many typical dishes depending on the region. We have collected for some of them that you can combine and prepare according to your preferences. Each dish has a direct link to the original recipe.


As an appetizer you can serve something simple like cold cuts, cheese and olives, or Russian salad, colorful canapés or something very creative like bruschette of panettone with gorgonzola and currants.

il primo

In most northern regions, the first course consists of stuffed pasta such as ravioli, tortellini or agnolotti (typical in the Piedmont region, first picture). Often these are served as a soup, such as tortellini in brodo di cappone, that means tortellini with capon soup (the capon is a castrated rooster), typical in Emilia Romagna. From this region are also traditional at Christmas the passatelli in brodo, that is, a passatelli soup (passatelli are pasta made with Parmesan cheese, second picture).

In the south, pasta casserole (it. pasta al forno), lasagna or the delicious cannelloni (third picture) are typical.

This map from Italian Food Experience shows typical Italian first courses for Christmas:

il secondo e il contorno

As a second course, meat is typical, such as stuffed capon (with it you can prepare the soup for the tortellini, see above), roast veal or duck à l’orange. These can be wonderfully served with potatoes.

Vegetarian and vegan Christmas menu

If you want to prepare a delicious vegetarian or vegan Christmas menu, we have prepared for you a menu inspired by the cooking blogs chicco di mais and ricettevegolose. Each dish has a direct link to the original recipe.


For starters, you can serve delicious Parmesan flans, olive grissini or a spinach quiche.

il primo

For the first course is quite simple, since many pasta recipes are vegetarian or even vegan, such as cannelloni with spinach and ricotta mentioned above or pasta stuffed with vegetables such as agnolotti, tortelli or ravioli. Here we have three more suggestions: Crepe spirals with spinach and ricotta, tagliolini with lemon and vegan lasagna.

il secondo e il contorno

As a second course we have three delicious recipes for different polpettoni (meatloaf): cauliflower roast, lentil roast or chickpea and potato roast, which you can enjoy with a delicious sauce or vegetables.

The Dessert

Desserts are important elements of the Christmas menu, both for Christmas Eve dinner and for Christmas lunch throughout Italy.

The classics: Panettone, Pandoro and Torrone

The Milanese Panettone is the typical Christmas dessert that can be found in every household throughout Italy. The counterpart of Panettone is the delicious Pandoro from Verona. Both have now become a symbol of Christmas throughout Italy. Typical desserts at Christmas are also nuts and the torrone, a confection made of almonds, honey, sugar and egg white. These are products that are usually bought rather than prepared at home because they are very difficult.

Creative recipes with Panettone and Pandoro

Panettone and Pandoro can be enjoyed plain, with a simple mascarpone or chocolate cream, or in more creative versions, such as a fabulous Woodland Panettone Cake, a Pandoro Christmas Tree with cream and wild berries, or a Pandoro Tiramisù with wild berries.

More desserts

In addition to the traditional pandoro, panettone and torrone, you can offer other delicious desserts, for example, a delicious yogurt mousse, a white Yule log typical of France or an apple strudel typical of Alto Adige.

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