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Suggestions for Traditional Italian Christmas Day Dinner Needed

  • s

My husband's family is of Sicilian origin and I'm jewish.

Christmas Eve is always celebrated at his neices home, however, I've been having Christmas Day dinner at our house (a much smaller crowd, only about 6-8 at most).

I know Christmas Eve it is customary to have the Feast of the 7 Fishes, which is done in a small matter in his family, since surprisingly, few of them eat fish (I know, very strange).

I'm going to be making a turkey for the main entree, but I am looking for a festive pasta course to preceed the turkey. I don't want to resort to the usual lasagna and it can't be with seafood (unfortunately for me).

Also, any traditional ideas for side dishes would be greatly appreciated as well. This is the 5th year I'll be throwing this dinner and while it's been a huge success thus far (thanks to my cooking skills) I really would like to wow them this year, since I actually love all of them like my own family.


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  1. My husband's family is very traditional Sicilian, and it must be spaghetti with mushroom sauce on Christmas Eve (sometimes I make fra Diablo sauce and hubby refuses to eat it! I have to make him a special pasta with mushrooms,as he's not a seafood lover either). They're a little more flexible with the pasta course on Christmas Day, as long as they have meatballs, sausage and braciole with it. Sometimes I make Lasagna, but pasta from scratch so it takes hours. Lately I've made manicotti (I have an electric crepe maker so I can throw it together while everyone has breakfast), or cannelloni, if I feel ambitious, the important thing is to make the pasta yourself. But this year I'm being really lazy and making stuffed shells, which I'll jazz up with some spinach and maybe gorgonzola too (I'll just use Barilla or whatever). Since we've been eating for 48 hours, they're not so picky the 2nd day!!

    1. l
      La Dolce Vita

      Why don't you do homemade ravioli? You can make them ahead of time, and freeze them. Then, boil them directly from the freezer. You don't have to do tomato sauce (although this is traditional). I've served them with a butter-olive-oil mushroom sauce, and a drizzle of truffle oil.

      My mother, who is Italian, fills her ravioli with ricotta, but I like a spinach-and-ricotta filling.

      For side dishes, my mom would make spanikopita, because our family is also Greek. But to keep it Italian, you could do a nice antipasto salad, with provolone, pepperoncini, slivers of asiago, on top of a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, olives and cucumbers. Around New Year's my grandmother put sliced oranges on the salad for good luck. I don't see any reason why you couldn't do that for Christmas, too.

      7 Replies
      1. re: La Dolce Vita

        I second the ravioli suggestion. I'm from a sicilian family and for thanksgiving we preceed the turkey with ravioli. I made the marcella hazan 4 ingredient sauce. Delish. Since it's basically the same meal you'll be prepping for christmas, that should be ok!

        1. re: Lizard
          La Dolce Vita

          What's in the 4-ingredient sauce? Is it a tomato sauce?

          1. re: La Dolce Vita

            It's 2# of fresh tomatoes cooked down and puree'ed, or canned and puree'ed, a pinch of sugar, an onion halved, and butter. it calls for a whole stick, i only use half. simmer all the ingredients for 45 minutes and voila. pure tomato ecstasy.

            1. re: lizard
              La Dolce Vita

              Ooohh. Thank you for sharing! This may be the meatless tomato sauce recipe I've been looking for. And it's quick, too. No all-night simmers like I do with my regular spaghetti sauce.

              1. re: La Dolce Vita

                You're welcome. I'm from an italian family and have always used the family "gravy" recipe. This is my first non-family sauce I've made. It's really simple. And rumor has it, with fresh summer tomatoes it is a heavenly experience. The essence of tomatoey summer. This is one time I didn't doctor the recipe at all (except to cut the butter in half). No added salt, no added basil, no crushed red pepper flakes. It was great. And such a pretty color.

          2. re: Lizard
            bob oppedisano

            Second a stuffed pasta. Top quality ravioli, with either a butter/sage or a light tomato/basil sauce (food mill san marzano peeled tomatoes into a pot in which one small onion, whole, has been sauteeing in olive oil; cook with big fistful of fresh basil for no more than 30 minutes). Or top quality tortellini or agnolotti (from a pasta shop, not the supermarket case) in home made or well-doctored prepared broth, with a shower of parsley and parmigiano-reggiano.
            For sides, a gratin, perhaps, of caulflower; stuffed artichokes; chard or broccoli di rape sauteed with garlic and lemon. A tavola!

          3. re: La Dolce Vita

            I wouldn't want to experiment with home made ravioli for the Christmas dinner. They are harder to make than you think, especially the first time. To be safe, practice first, or else you can buy ravioli with various fillings that will be quite acceptable to the family. If you can locate a seller with fresh ravioli, choose a ricotta or spinach ricotta filling. If not, Celantano makes a traditional ravioli.

            I don't know if you make your own "gravy" for this family. If you do, go for it, and if not, try changing things up a bit by adding a cup or so of grated Parmesan and heavy cream. This will give you a festive and delicious pink sauce. You can avoid the very long cooking time needed for Sicilian sauce by serving pink sauce that is richer and thicker than any tomato sauce. Everyone eats this. It is actually better not to cook the tomato sauce for more than about 45 minutes with this sauce, as a dark red sauce doesn't actually lend itself to this treatment. You can even cheat with a jarred sauce if you were so inclined, (choose basil and garlic), because the Parmesan and cream add quite a lot of richness.

            If ravioli are not you favorite, consider canneloni or manicotti. Those are also considered holiday pastas.

          4. How about home made pasta cut into festive Christmas shapes? Instead of ravioli you could cut the pasta with different shaped cookie cutters, chill them until ready to cook and toss with a great sauce. This would also be a bit lighter if your having turkey.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ida Red

              Wow! I love that idea! I was thinking about making ravioli, and cutting it into unexpected shapes would really be quite a touch.


            2. Start with an antipasta

              1 Reply
              1. re: EAF

                It's actually "antipasto," as in "before the meal," not "before the pasta." :-)

              2. Be thankful you're not Lithuanian - they have 13 fishes on Xmas eve.

                1. For a side dish you could make cauliflower salad.
                  Lightly steam the cauliflower and mix it with olive oil, capers, olives, hot pepper flakes and chopped parsley. My husband loves it. I also recommend a dish of caponata if your family likes eggplant. You can serve it as a side dish or as an appetizer with bread. Find yourself a copy of Carlo Middone's "Food of Southern Italy". I use it all the time to cook for my Italian in-laws. He has a recipe for a lemon and orange salad that is pretty wild. It has black pepper, olive oil and mint added to the fruit. I have given the same treatment to melon with excellent results. Have fun.

                  1. After reading all of the previous suggestions, all I can say is..."Oy weh! Such a tsimmis they're all making."

                    My late mother-in-law made "aglio e olio" on Christmas Eve in the days when all "garlicsnappers" (Sam Staffa's sobriquet for people of Italian heritage) had to fast on that occasion. That's garlic sauteed in olive oil and poured over spaghetti. Her parents came from Petilia Policastro, Crotone, Calabria...that's in the ball of the foot if you look at a map of Italy. That was traditional in her family. We lived in the Chicago area at the time, and the variety of fish was not what it is on the East Coast.

                    My wife has embellished this dish by adding toasted pignoli (pine nuts), chopped fresh tomatoes, and steamed broccoli florets to the recipe. These ingredients are added to the oil and garlic just before pouring the stuff over linguini.

                    Buon Natale e buon appetito! Tutti a tavolo. Mangiamo!

                    Personally, a nice bowl of matzoh ball soup and some homemade chopped chicken liver would have pleased me more. Oops, chicken is meat...Oy weh!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChiliDude

                      Loved your answer! It's funny too, because being jewish, the first night of Chanukah falls on Christmas night, when I'm making the dinner. So, I've been trying to come up with some classsics for that too, but might just stick to latkes :-) What could be better?


                    2. But it's just NOT Christmas without lasagne.

                      I spent Christmas at the home, last year, of a newlywed couple I'm close friends with. They were arguing over turkey or ham for Christmas. All I could contribute was the following is the correct holiday menu breakdown:

                      Thanksgiving: Turkey and stuff
                      Christmas Eve: Seven fishes

                      Christmas morning: Ham, pierogis, pickled beets, rye bread, and kielbasa

                      Christmas dinner: lasagne, braciole, sausage, meatballs, pork, with a side of garlic mushrooms and broccoli

                      New Year's Eve: filet mignon and lobster for dinner. Shrimp cocktail at midnight (it's brain food, to make you smarter in the new year)

                      Christmas Day: A fresh ham

                      Jan 2: a loan for a personal trainer to get you back in shape for when it all starts again around Easter.

                      1. c
                        cooking in Queens.

                        It depends on what region you are from. Whole roasted pigs are a big chrtmas dinner. it is a 7 course meal antipasta , zuppa, pasta / risotto , meat with vegtables, salad, fruit,desert, espresso. last but not least grappa. wine is served with every course.Have every one cook one course and bring it to the table.

                        1. d
                          Das Ubergeek

                          We don't eat turkey on Christmas Day -- we eat Sunday dinner taken up a few notches, with a braciole, sausages, pork roast, etc. simmered in red sauce. You eat the sauce over the pasta and then have the meat as the second course, but I assume pork is out of the question?

                          Having dispensed with "tradition", you might want to start with something lighter, like orecchiette with cauliflower or linguine aglio olio with sausage and broccoli rabe. If you want something heavier (it is Christmas, after all) you could go with a baked pasta (not necessarily lasagne, could be cannelloni, stuffed shells, baked ziti, whatever you like) or penne in pink sauce.

                          I never really cared what we ate for Christmas dinner, because my aunt used to go all-out for Christmas brunch and serve all kinds of ham and roasted potatoes and lox and bagels (traditional Italian, isn't it?) and sfogliatelle and various cheese- and fruit-filled pastries, and by the time I got done with all that I wasn't really "into" the big dinner!

                          1. A delicious option would be Pumpkin & Walnut Ravioli with a Creamy Sage Dressing. These can be made in advance and frozen, are delicious and beautifully festive, especially if made with a spinach pasta. I'd be happy to provide the recipe.

                            1 Reply
                            1. Our options for Christmas Day pastas include:
                              1. Homemade egg noodles that we cut into fettucine or spaghetti and make them super long. We put them on cookie sheets on wax paper, lightly floured and freeze them. We carefully box them after frozen and then the day of, drop them frozen into boiling water. Serve with a long, simmered, tomato sauce.
                              2. Homemade Cannelloni - Egg noodle sheets of pasta blanched, cut and stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, spinachl, little nuitmeg, fresh parmigiano and grated mozz. If you can get full egg noodle sheets of pasta somewhere, it cuts out the work. Fresh ricotta is a must (drain water). We individually freeze them and the night before, lay in a pan that has been lined with fresh tomato sauce, add tomato sauce on the top. Refrigerate to thaw. Bake, half way through, top with parm. This is super easy and great for make ahead. I sometimes even make the sauce ahead of time.
                              3. Homemade ravioli (tedious and time consuming, but delicious).