From Milan to Puglia, EVOO Lies at The Heart of Christmas Cooking in Italy

While every region in Italy celebrates the Christmas period differently, all rely on local extra virgin olive oils to enhance their meals.

By Ylenia Granitto
Dec. 16, 2022 17:22 UTC

I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the peo­ple; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Thus, accord­ing to the evan­ge­list Luke’s account, an angel announced to some shep­herds, who were watch­ing over their flocks nearby Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in a manger.

The right extra vir­gin olive oil high­lights the dish, enhanc­ing its fla­vors, but must not over­whelm or dis­ap­pear in respect of the food.- Fabrizio Bertucci, olive oil som­me­lier, Euro-Toques

The bliss of that night more than 2,000 years ago still shines in the most heart­felt hol­i­day for Italians: Christmas – a Christian holy day that sends out a pow­er­ful mes­sage of love and shar­ing that is also cel­e­brated by non-believ­ers and those of other faiths.

For many, fes­tiv­i­ties cul­mi­nate with Christmas Eve din­ner on December 24th, while in some areas, peo­ple pre­fer to gather for lunch on the 25th. As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all rule regard­ing Italian Christmas food tra­di­tions.

See Also:EVOO Shines in Michelin Star Chef’s Traditional Christmas Eve Dinner

In a coun­try with rich cul­tural and tra­di­tional her­itage, the prepa­ra­tion of a local dish gen­er­ally changes from one town to the next, and the choice of spe­cial­ties in fes­tive meals varies accord­ing to the area – in Italy, one can­not talk about tra­di­tion with­out talk­ing about ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity.

Yet, among the myr­iad of deli­cious vari­a­tions on the theme, one ingre­di­ent applies to all of them: at Christmas, extra vir­gin olive oil is essen­tial on all Italian tables.

The right extra vir­gin olive oil high­lights the dish, enhanc­ing its fla­vors, but must not over­whelm or dis­ap­pear in respect of the food,” the olive oil som­me­lier and Euro-Toques chef Fabrizio Bertucci told Olive Oil times. We try to com­bine the organolep­tic prop­er­ties of the two ele­ments to give the palate sen­sa­tions that leave a mark, par­tic­u­larly on a spe­cial occa­sion like this.”


Fabrizio Bertucci

I, there­fore, rec­om­mend stock­ing up on dif­fer­ent extra vir­gin olive oils before you start prepar­ing your Christmas meals,” he added. We must take into account their inten­sity, fruiti­ness and scents. When we talk about tra­di­tional food, the autochtho­nous olive vari­eties fit well in the recipes usu­ally linked to the ter­ri­tory.”

We must remem­ber that, in line with an ancient pre­cept that has become a tra­di­tion, Christmas Eve din­ner does not con­tain meat, which is allowed on Christmas lunch.

It would be ideal to have at least one light fruity oil, given the preva­lence of seafood on the din­ner table,” Bertucci said. An intense fruiti­ness can be cho­sen for the more struc­tured dishes that dom­i­nate the lunch on the 25th, then a few oth­ers accord­ing to the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ters of each dish and for cook­ing.”

See Also:Recipes with Olive Oil

For those con­scious of pur­chas­ing and open­ing mul­ti­ple bot­tles of olive oil at once, a bot­tle of extra vir­gin olive oil can be used many more times after an event.

Furthermore, the higher the qual­ity of a prod­uct, the more its taste stands out and the less needed on a plate, guar­an­tee­ing an excel­lent qual­ity-to-price ratio.

Consider this while read­ing about some of the dishes from dif­fer­ent Italian regions and culi­nary inspi­ra­tions paired with extra vir­gin olive oils by the sec­tor’s pro­fes­sion­als.

Among the appe­tiz­ers of the Christmas din­ner, I pre­pare mar­i­nated anchovies,” said Federico Iavicoli, chef and owner of Fuorinorma in Rome. This blue fish has always been part of the tra­di­tion of Roman cui­sine with cod, as an impor­tant fish mar­ket was once located at the Portico di Ottavia in the heart of the city.”


Federico Iavicoli

Considering a por­tion of five or six anchovies per guest, Iavicoli cleans, debones and removes the heads from the fish. (Note: Keep the anchovies in the freezer for at least 24 hours if made at home to ren­der them safe).

He then puts them in lay­ers of coarse salt, adding thyme, for about 25 min­utes. Next, he care­fully removes the salt and adds a pre­vi­ously made mix of pep­per grains, a pecu­liar­ity of the Roman-style mari­nade, lemon juice and wine vine­gar, leav­ing the anchovies to mar­i­nate for no more than 20 min­utes.


At the end, I pour lemon zest, finely chopped pars­ley, and the oil,” Iavicoli said. I use a light fruity mono­va­ri­etal, choos­ing between Canino, Frantoio or Leccino from Lazio or south­ern Tuscany, or even a Tonda Iblea from Sicily or a Ligurian Taggiasca.”

The first dish comes from Stefano Sorci, chef and owner of L’Oste Dispensa, located on Giannella beach in the province of Grosseto, who pre­pares his Spaghetti alla bot­targa di Orbetello.


Stefano Sorci

This bot­targa (roe) is obtained from dried and cured eggs of mul­let fish from the Orbetello Lagoon,” he explained. With a rich bio­di­ver­sity, it has been a pro­tected area since 1971 and has great envi­ron­men­tal impor­tance. It is no coin­ci­dence that the Orbetello bot­targa is a Slow Food pre­sid­ium linked with the tra­di­tional fish­ing of the area.”

As he boils the spaghetti in plenty of salted water, Sorci pours the oil into a pan with chili pep­per, pars­ley and gar­lic, cook­ing them at a tem­per­a­ture no higher than 60 °C.

He then adds lemon juice and a lit­tle bit of the water in which the pasta was cooked and lets the pan sit, allow­ing the stew to aro­m­a­tize.

Once the spaghetti is cooked al dente, Sorci pours it into the pan and starts cream­ing. When a creamy sauce is released, he adds 150 grams of the pre­vi­ously grated roe and allows it to emul­sify, mak­ing it homo­ge­neous.

I com­plete it with thin slices of bot­targa and a driz­zle of oil,” Sorci said. In this prepa­ra­tion, I use an organic blend pro­duced near Mount Amiata with Correggiolo, Leccino and Olivastra seg­gianese.”

The sec­ond Christmas Eve dish comes from Puglia, Italy’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region. It requires two extra vir­gin olive oils to be used while cook­ing and as a gar­nish.

The Cod of the poor peas­ant’ in this area is tra­di­tion­ally pre­pared for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, and again on Christmas Eve,” said Emanuele Natalizio, chef and owner of Il Patriarca in Bitonto in the province of Bari.


Emanuele Natalizio

He slices a layer of pota­toes to cover the bot­tom of a clay pan before adding the sec­ond layer of freshly peeled tomato.

Natalizio then puts the desalted and skinned cod on it and tears toma­toes by hand, adding them on top of the cod with red onion, basil, pars­ley, sweet pit­ted olives and a driz­zle of mono­va­ri­etal Ogliarola Cima di Bitonto olive oil.

Next, he put the dish in the oven at 200 ºC to 220°C for about one hour. Halfway through, he adds bread­crumbs, torn tomato and a bit of water.

At the end, we pour pecorino cheese, grated or used in a fon­due and fin­ish with a round of Coratina,” Natalizio said. During cook­ing, a group­ing of fla­vors arises from the com­bi­na­tion of the var­i­ous ingre­di­ents which enhance the cod, together with the cheese.”

After the light inten­sity of the Cima di Bitonto oil dur­ing prepa­ra­tion, a struc­tured one like Coratina height­ens the aro­mas obtained at the end,” he added.

When it comes to sweets, Panettone is a must-have dessert dur­ing Christmas. Originally from Milan, it requires a slow and com­plex prepa­ra­tion that includes but­ter, but in recent years a ver­sion with extra vir­gin olive oil has taken hold.

We car­ried out var­i­ous tests and research,” said the pas­try chef Luca Lacalamita, owner of the bak­ery and pas­try shop Lula in Trani, Puglia. We wanted to obtain a prod­uct sim­i­lar in struc­ture to the tra­di­tional one.”


Luca Lacalamita

We cre­ated a veg­etable but­ter com­posed mostly of Coratina extra vir­gin olive oil, coconut oil and cocoa but­ter emul­si­fied with lecithin,” he explained.

Lacalamita said the result is a bright green veg­etable but­ter that he uses in the dough, which has three phases of knead­ing and fer­men­ta­tions with mother yeast.

We also include a paste made with orange, lemon, and berg­amot,” he added. Its aroma goes per­fectly with the scents of the mono­va­ri­etal.”

In Tuscany, Andrea Perini, chef and owner of Al 588 in Bagno a Ripoli, near Florence, and Tommaso Vatti, pizza chef at La Pergola di Radicondoli in the province of Siena, cre­ated a panet­tone with a blend from their region.


Andrea Perini

We usu­ally choose a very scented prod­uct from this area, green of leaf, arti­choke, car­doon, and not very bit­ter,” Perini said. Alternatively, we would use an Itrana. We com­bined it with cocoa but­ter in a veg­etable mass that we incor­po­rate into our clas­sic fla­vor panet­tone dough.”

What is essen­tial to start our meal on the 25th is a bruschetta, a toasted bread slice driz­zled with the new oil,” he added while pre­sent­ing the menu of its Christmas lunch. Then, as an appe­tizer, I would pre­pare a good Chianina fil­let tartare with a driz­zle of a Frantoio, Moraiolo, and Leccino blend. It coun­ter­acts the meat’s sweet­ness with its bit­ter­ness and spici­ness, enhanc­ing its fea­tures.”


Cappelletti in broth (Photo: Andrea Perini)

Perini goes on with cap­pel­letti in broth as a first course. I com­plete this fresh pasta filled with bread soup with a Frantoio mono­va­ri­etal that is spicy and explo­sive, with green and bal­samic notes, as required by the fill­ing that has a preva­lence of black cab­bage,” he said.

As a sec­ond course, a nice piece of Casentino gray piglet, cooked at low tem­per­a­ture and grilled, can be served with a puree made with Leccino, bal­anced in bit­ter­ness and spici­ness, that gives a fresh grass taste to the pota­toes,” Perini con­cluded.

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