Christmas meals are taken seriously in Abruzzo. The traditional Christmas menu is discussed and planned in details weeks prior to the celebration and many dishes are prepared well before the feast. The dishes vary depending on the area and family traditions and you will always find that the Christmas tables, for instance, in the mountains of the Teramo province will have something different from those on the coast in Vasto, in the south of the region.
In this article we suggest some traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo that you can cook for a special seasonal Abruzzo-style feast, no matter where in the world you are.
Many older people in Abruzzo still follow the old tradition of digiuno, fasting on December 24 until the evening meal. The tradition calls for a meat-free meal on Christmas Eve, la vigilia, so many households serve fish dishes.
On the coast, mussels are stuffed with breadcrumbs, fresh fish is grilled or simmered slowly to make a rich brodetto soup while in the mountains, traditional dishes with legumes, vegetables and pesce conservato, or “preserved fish” such as salted cod (baccalà) and salted sardines are made. Grilled or fried capitone (eel) is also a popular choice.
You can find a recipe for brodetto alla vastese (Vasto-style fish soup) in English here.
Baccalà fritters (baccalà fritto) are sold in most supermarkets here but the best ones are made at home and eaten hot. Find the recipe in the December issue of ABRUZZISSIMO (subscribe here to download it) or watch this video with English subtitles.
Baked baccalà and salted cod with potatoes are always on the Christmas menu in the L’Aquila province. You will find the recipes in our Recipes from Abruzzo e-book.
Pranzo di Natale
The main festive meal is lunch on December 25. It is a gargantuan feast that lasts for many hours with many elaborate traditional Christmas dishes from Abruzzo served one after another.
The meal starts with local prosciutto, salami, cheese served vegetable preserves such as artichokes or aubergine sott’olio, pickled garlic scapes. Baccalà fritters and baccalà with potatoes salads (see above) are also served as starters.
Then arrives the magnificent cardoon soup (lu cardone, or zuppa di cardo) which is considered a lighter festive dish, although, as calorie count goes, it is still quite rich. In Abruzzo, thistle stalks are called “Christmas greens” because they are used for this festive dish. See the recipe for zuppa di cardo here. The boiled meat from the broth is eaten as a separate dish, accompanied by pickled vegetables (e.g. giardiniera).
Some families serve the imperial soup (zuppa imperiale), another dish that requires considerable time and effort. See the recipe in English here.
Now it is time for pasta dishes. These vary from family to family: timballo (lasagna made with crépes; see a slightly simplified recipe here), pasta alla chitarra with tiny meatballs (chitarra con le polpettine) or pasta alla chitarra with a rich meat sauce. Scrippelle ‘mbusse, (rolled-up crépes served in broth; find the recipe in our Recipes from Abruzzo e-book).
By this stage, anyone would be in a food coma, but for a true Abruzzese it is time for a second course, which is always meat: grilled sausages and lamb (arrosto misto), arrosticini (Abruzzo’s iconic sheep meat skewers), roasted chicken, porchetta-style rabbit (see our Recipes from Abruzzo e-book).
The amounts of desserts piled up on the Christmas table might seem exaggerated to a non-Abruzzese person, but the tradition is that all family members and guests will take some with them to enjoy at home afterwards. In Pescara, parrozzo is the ultimate Christmas cake (see the recipe in English here).
Torcinelli abruzzesi is another traditional Christmas treat. Different versions and shapes of this deep-fried dough with boiled potatoes dessert exist across Italy. Like many other typical dishes here, torcinelli fritters remind about the region’s humble past when peasants came up with delicious recipes using simple local ingredients. Torcinelli were made on Christmas Eve while fasting, so it was a torture for kids to see chests full of these treats and not being able to eat them until next day. Watch this video recipe (in Italian) to learn how to make the fritters.
Caggionetti are deep-fried sweet dumplings (yes, there is a lot of frying going on in Abruzzo coming up to Christmas). The most common filling of chickpeas, cacao, grape must and cinnamon might seem like a strange combination for a modern palate but give it try. There is also a version with nuts, grape jam and must, which is popular in the Chieti province. We have a recipe for luscious caggionetti with almonds and honey on out website here.
Humble (yet delicious) nut desserts are typical for the L’Aquila province, where walnuts and almonds grow in abundance. Walnut and honey brittle (copeta) perfumed with fragrant fresh bay leaf is prepared a few days before Christmas with participation of all family members. Women crack walnuts, kids are in charge of quality control of the chopped nuts, making sure there aren’t any hard shell bits and the copeta itself is prepared by the men. You will find the recipe in our Recipes from Abruzzo e-book.
To finish the feast, serve dried figs from Atessa (fichi di Atessa caracini) and torrone aquilano nougat (for more about it see the December issue of ABRZZISSIMO Magazine; sign up here to download it) paired with traditional liqueurs such as ratafia, nocino or genziana.
For more traditional dishes see Recipes from Abruzzo. The e-book is a collection of 39 recipes (with a special section dedicated to traditional Christmas dishes) to help you plan your Abruzzo-style festive feast.