‘Tis the season, once again, to consider options for your corporate Christmas dinner menu. We might be slightly biased, but we would like to suggest you give the whole event a traditionally Italian flavour – literally. As we have already established, there is no such thing as a traditional Italian Christmas dinner: there are, in fact, several. Which allows you to explore a variety of traditions in one meal. Italy’s culinary diversity is a consequence of the unique characteristics of both its territory and its cultural influences. While northern recipes are heavily influenced by the Mitteleuropean tradition, in most of the South you will find flavours and combinations that are reminiscent of Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. The one thing that all of our Christmas recipes have in common is a certain richness, that sets them apart from the rest of the culinary tradition, and contributes to the festive air that you want your corporate Christmas dinner to convey. This year we will show you a few recipes that will add an Italian touch to your event.
Hors d’oeuvre – Calabria – Crespelle
In Southern Italy, starters are no joke. They come before the first courses (yes, courses, in the plural) and they are not so much meant to whet your appetite as to make it clear from the start that your host means business. If you happen to be invited to a Christmas dinner in Calabria, expect your meal to start with a selection of local cheeses and cured meats, followed by the traditional crespelle – fried dough pancakes with a filling of sautéed anchovies. Variations on this recipe may use cauliflower in the dough or codfish in the filling. This particular dish is more commonly reserved for Christmas eve, when it is traditional to eat “lean” food – which basically means red meat is generally avoided and anything else goes. This is originally a Catholic tradition, but it is so ingrained in the national culture that it will often be adopted by non-Catholics too.
First Courses – Lombardy – Pumpkin Tortelli
Pumpkin is internationally associated with autumn in general and Halloween in particular, and this imagery is slowly becoming popular in Italy too – one of many instances of the integration of elements of American popular culture into European traditions. In Italy, however, pumpkin has never carried any particular symbolic meaning beside being a treasured ingredient for the cold season in most of the North. In Lombardy, pumpkin tortelli are a traditional Christmas recipe. Stuffed pasta in general is particularly popular in this part of Italy and it makes an easy, elegant and tasty course for any corporate Christmas dinner, because it does not require complex seasoning. Pumpkin tortelli, with their characteristic sweet-and-salty flavour, are generally complimented by a light seasoning of butter, sage and parmesan.
Main Courses – Val D’Aosta – sautéed Venison
A roast dinner is more or less part of the Christmas tradition in most of Italy, and game is the meat of choice in most northern regions. In Val D’Aosta you will often find venison on a Christmas table. This is a very sophisticated recipe, that will no doubt be the absolute star of any corporate Christmas dinner menu, both because of its visual impact and its rich and complex flavour. The Val D’Aosta tradition has the venison (which in this case is most likely to be roe deer), marinated in red wine with garlic, juniper berries, laurel, thyme and cinnamon and then sautéed. It is usually served with roast potatoes and accompanied by red wine. This is textbook comfort food, but at the same time it carries undertones of the wild and the exotic.
Desserts – Liguria – Castagnaccio
Most Italian Christmas desserts are made with nuts and dried fruits, which – at a time when it was not possible to find ingredients out of season – were easier to come by in winter than fresh fruit. Castagnaccio is one of the most delicious examples of how Italian culinary creativity has produced wonders even with a limited number of ingredients. There are several regional variants of this recipe, but the Ligurian one is among the most ancient and popular. Chestnut are the main ingredient in this delicate and delicious cake, which is, incidentally, also gluten free and vegan. Chestnut meal is mixed with water and olive oil, lightly sweetened and enriched with sultanas, pine-nuts and – believe it or not – rosemary. If you are not strictly vegan, you can add a thin coating of honey. This unassuming and yet delicious dessert is guaranteed to have your guests begging for more.