Preparing for my first Christmas in Italy

I’m celebrating Christmas in Italy for the first time this year. If it wasn’t 2020, I would be arriving in New England right about now with suitcases stuffed with Italian treats and wines to share with my family and friends. But this is 2020 and as much as I will miss the holidays in Vermont, there are worse places to be stuck than Italy. Can you even call it being stuck if you’re in Italy?

So we’re planning the coming delicious days, starting with Christmas Eve. While the Christmas Eve celebration of the Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian American tradition and not Italian, it is customary to abstain from meat the night before Christmas and seafood is often served.

We’re preparing a fancy cheese plate with some herring we picked up the other day and are debating which seafood dishes to serve, from spaghetti with clams to fried anchovies. Can you make a lasagna with lake fish? Is this the year to find out? Or what about lasagna with dried salted cod known as baccalà? The seafood menu options are endless in Italy, and if all else fails, there are always anchovies. There are so many ways to prepare anchovies.

Meanwhile, we ordered a hunk of pig yesterday to make a mini-porchetta for Christmas day at home as all the restaurants will be closed. Porchetta is a boneless pig roast from central Italy that is stuffed, often with liver, rosemary, garlic, and pepper, heavily salted, and roasted with the skin on for hours. The result is a creamy flavorful inside and a hard crunchy outside.

Porchetta is also great eaten as a sandwich so I am making my go to holiday bread to go with it, Martha Stewarts no knead dinner rolls. We plan to serve it all with a sautéed green like chicory and oven roasted potatoes.

Christmas dessert is easy in Italy as they make these tall, fancy, buttery cakes that last for months, the golden star shaped pandoro dusted with snowy sugar and the more bread-like version, panettone, which is typically packed with candied fruits. We have two non-traditional panettone ready and waiting, one made with beer and candied oranges and one with dark chocolate and sour cherries.

That’s my fat little Christmas tree in the photo. My boyfriend thinks the popcorn necklaces that I made are the weirdest things ever but they remind of being about seven in New England.

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