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Christmas Dinner with the Romans

For anyone living in, visiting, or emulating Rome, Christmas meals are truly epic affairs with a saga of courses

Those who are blessed with culinary capabilities can showcase their skills in the various dishes that make up the festive feasting.

Those with less than tantalising talents can wear elasticated pants and indulge in rich, historical fare before helping out and doing the dishes.

Whether you’re entertaining guests, or you’re the guest being entertained, here are some common dishes that are part of the Roman and Italian Christmas menu.

Oh Capitone! My Capitone!

Not be confused with Walt Whitman’s epic extended metaphor poem, this capitone in question means eel. And during Christmas Eve eating, there’s something very fishy going on, with a clear ‘under the sea’ vibe.

Longstanding Catholic tradition states that meat be avoided before any big religious event, and asks for a giorno di magro (literally referring to a ‘thin day’) before the holy festival. Therefore, many Romans and other Italians stay lean and keen before Christmas day by indulging in fish and vegetable dishes to purify their bodies.

A big ticket item during la Vigilia is indeed eel (shout out to Flotsam and Jetsam from the Little Mermaid-sorry Ursula), although nowadays shellfish, fried cod in batter (baccalà), and octopus are increasingly common.

The Chicken and the Egg

Christmas Day lunch is where all of the action happens on December 25. One of the first items to be served is stracciatella soup, reminiscent of egg drop soup.

A mixture of whipped eggs and parmesan is poured into chicken broth to create this dish. Meaning ‘little shred’, stracciatella refers to the consistency of the egg and parmesan once they’re embraced by the piping hot broth.

Other variations to this first course involve cappelletti, or ‘little hats’, which make up a style of meat-stuffed pasta. These are also added to chicken or eel broth, and dusted with a snowy blanket of grated parmesan cheese.

Some of you may have seen straccietella used in other types of Roman food. A popular ice-cream is also named as such after the chocolate shreds that populate its creamy mass. Stracciatella di buffala is an indulgent cheese made from a stretching and shredding technique applied buffalo milk (the same delicious stuff that gives us mozzarella di buffala).

A Meal Most Fowl

As the world steadily evolves into a global village, the cross pollination of cultural habits is on the rise: While turkey is a popular element in American Christmas cuisine, its appearing with increasing frequency on many Italian tables.

However, the capon (cappone in Italian) is a speciality type of poultry reserved for Roman Natale. Due to the particular way that it’s reared and prepared, it’s not something that can be found plucked, packaged, and priced in any supermarket. You’re looking at a castrated cockerel or rooster, whose meat stays tender throughout its short life due to the removal of its sexual organs.

Why go through all the trouble, you may ask?

The consumption of capon stretches back to the ancient Romans. When a law was passed that prohibited keeping poultry at home for hygienic reasons, they turned to castration to maintain their homes and diets.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way for anyone attempting to stay traditional this Roman Christmas. Serving capon involves advanced visits to a farmer’s market, or receiving intel from a local butcher as to the bird’s availability. Although capon is by no means rare, its value is due in part to scarcity, and may explain how turkey has infiltrated the Italian Christmas menu.

Recipes for tucking into this festive fowl most often include roasting it with stuffing, commonly made of walnut. It can also be deconstructed into a broth and served with pasta similar to tortellini or cappelletti.

Pandoro’s Box

Dessert is the final frontier for any Italian meal, and Roman Christmas is no different.

Regardless of the region, sweets that grace many an Italian table are the Christmas favourites of Pandoro and Panettone cakes.

Pandoro originated in Verona in as far back as the 18th century, but is a widespread favourite throughout the peninsula. Characteristically rich in butter and without fruit, it’s a soft and yeasty cake that’s dusted with powdered sugar.

Also featuring a yeast-induced plump body, the Panettone cake is wildly popular throughout Italy. Of Milanese origin, its fruity mass is almost archetypical in regards to Italian Christmas desserts, and is a common feature in most bakeries, supermarkets, and speciality shops.

Not to be outdone, torrone is a type of confectionary nougat made up of honey, sugar, egg whites, and nuts (either hazelnuts or almonds). Typically reserved for Christmas, it’s a block of heaven for any sweet tooth, and variations also include a chocolate base, or covered in chocolate (who can argue with anything covered in chocolate?).

It’s also important to slake your thirst during such epic banqueting, so remember to have spumante or prosecco at hand to fare un brindisi (to make a toast) to the amazing people in your life.

Check your List Twice

With Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fast approaching, don’t forget to perfect your holiday itinerary.

If you’re great at eating but are legitimately afraid of burning down the kitchen, then explore these 10 restaurants in rome to feast during Christmas and New Year’s. Find the perfect venue for you and your loved ones to chow down and stay merry for 2017.

Discover more gift ideas or fill up your stockings by visiting Rome’s best Christmas markets. Providing handmade crafts, artisanal foods, chats with Santa, and handmade crafts, they allow you to treat yourself and your family in both a festive and historic setting.

Lastly, avoid any Grinch-like temptations to welcome the new year with any 2016 stains. Check out how how to wash your clothes in Rome, and prepare for the release of Joy of Rome’s laundry webinar out on December 25.

You’ve probably seen that eating is the main theme of the season, so appease your appetite and join a Joy of Rome Food Tour to stay up to date on gastronomic gold.