For most Italians and especially Venetians, eating means family and family means homemade food, therefore Christmas and good, traditional homemade food must be enjoyed surrounded by loved ones.
Christmas is an important and solemn feast in Venice. A very special day when, as tradition dictates in the Western world, every family, after religious customs, must continue celebrating in front of copious and plentiful tables, overflowing with lavish food and amazing wine.
It is interesting that for the Christmas holidays, the Veneto region has been able to keep a number of dishes which have eaten for centuries in Venetian homes. And this variety means that there can be a very large choice of traditional Venetian dishes on Christmas tables.
Samuele Romanin, author of “Storia documentata di Venezia,” wrote that since ancient times, in Venice “the people had certain foods in specific days like eels, salmon, curly kale, mustard and Venetian nougat on the evening of Christmas eve.”
Interesting that we still find most of those dishes on Venetian Christmas tables today.
In the old days, the majestic sea bass would have been the king of the tables of Venetian nobility, who celebrated Christmas in the city; while on the mainland, the eel was a must, especially the large and fat females, caught in October when they were descending to the sea for their nuptial trip and then stored in the ponds of the country villas. The poorest people celebrated by eating snails.
Christmas lunch would have started without an appetizer, which was non-traditional in the Veneto, except during wedding banquets where it usually consisted of a plate of cold meats served with sliced pickles.
But things have changed. Nowadays, Christmas lunch can be served with an antipasto, generally salmon based appetizers, baccalà mantecato and cold cuts, like in the old tradition.
After the starters, the “raffioli in brodo” will be served, just like the Anonymous Venetian noted at the end of 1300s. The Raffioli are a Venetian version of the ravioli, stuffed with meat and served in a great homemade meat broth, usually cooked with capon meat, which will then be served later as a second course, accompanied by Venetian mustard. Mostarda is a condiment of candied fruit and mustard essence. It allowed people to keep extremely perishable fruit for a long time.
Sometimes instead of the Ravioli in Brodo, people will prepare some Bigoli in Salsa (long thick spaghetti with an anchovies sauce) or a nice risotto cooked, of course, with the Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, the prince of the Christmas table, as well as the fine red radicchio of Verona, that of Chioggia and of course the variegated Castelfranco’s.
For seconds, you could find a lovely Oven Baked Sea bass or a Loin of Pork cooked in milk, as well as a selection of boiled meats served, as mentioned before, with Mostarda Veneta.
Christmas lunch ends, as in the past, with a Pinza, a sweet Christmas bread pudding made with stale bread and polenta flour and a bunch of very, very stuffed relatives. Buon apetito e Buon Natale!
Monica Cesarato is a food blogger and culinary guide from Venice, organizing Cicchetti Food Tours and cooking lessons as Cook In Venice. Monica is currently writing a book about Cicchetti, Venetian street food. You can connect with Monica on Facebook, Twitter or visit her blog.