Continuing with our Christmas Around Italy guest post series, today we welcome Monica Cesarato from Venice! I had the pleasure of meeting Monica, a Venetian, last March during Carnival and taking a personal food walk with her. Monica blogs about Venice and owns and runs the Faronhof Bed and Breakfast, just outside of Venice. She also is one of the two people who run Cook in Venice, where they offer food tours in Venice and Venetian cooking courses, specializing in traditional dishes of Venice and the region. Today Monica is sharing a typical Venetian Christmas Dinner, the dishes that make up the dinner and the traditions behind them. Enjoy!
Have you ever wondered what Venetians eat traditionally for Christmas?
Julia Child said: “You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.” This typifies Venetian cooking: simple fresh ingredients enriched by herbs and spices, turning a simple uncomplicated recipe into a sublime dish. This is usually what appears in both the Grand Canal palaces and the normal houses of people living in Venice and in the Veneto region during the festive season!
Since the 15th century the Catholic Church has set a big distinction on what you are usually allowed to eat on Christmas Eve and what you should eat on Christmas day. This is why, in days bygone, Christmas Eve's lunch would have been the only meal of the day: by decree of the Church, Venetians were supposed to fast from morning till evening with the exception of midday, when they were allowed to have a small meal of Bigoli co la Sardela (Venetian spaghetti with sardines), Mandorlato (nougat) e vin Bon (good wine).
Nowadays the use of eating “magro” (light - that is eating fish and vegetables) continues but instead of having a midday meal, the banquet has moved to the evening, with a light (if we can call it that) dinner. Venetian Christmas Eve's tables will be full of traditional fish based recipes, like Risotto de Pevarasse (Venetian Clams risotto), Branzino al forno (oven cooked Seabass) or Anguilla (Eel) accompanied by mixed fried fish together with some grilled or stewed vegetables. No matter that they will be smothered with mayonnaise and other sauces, the perception of “magro” still persists!
Then Christmas day comes. Always back in the middle ages, the agrarian rituals demanded that people should eat “ossocollo”, a typical Venetian sausage, made by using the pieces of meat from the vertebrae of the pig's neck. The meat is marinated with salt and saltpeter for a week, then it's dried, covered with milled pepper and mixed spices and then it is packed in the guts of the pig. It is tied and hanged for 2 months. In the 15th century ossocollo would be used to make broth as well as constituting the main meal of this special day.
Today a typical Venetian Christmas meal would still start with an antipasto (starter) of ossocollo but also with other cold meats like Soppressa, Salame, Prosciutto Crudo e Cotto served with grissini (breadsticks) and pickled vegetables (onion, gherkins, peppers, carrots).
Capeeti (photo courtesy Andrea Buoso - Flickr)
But for centuries right up to today, three main traditional dishes have been served on Venetian Christmas tables for the joy of all diners: Capeeti or Ravioli in Brodo di Cappone (Ravioli in Capon broth), Cappone lesso (boiled Capon) and “Musetto” (boiled salame) with Puree di patate (mashed potatoes) and spinaci (spinach).
The “mare” (the mother, the woman of the house) prepares the broth with the cappone (a capon is a rooster that has been castrated to improve the quality of its meat) on Christmas eve, boiling a large capon together with salted water and carrots, celery, onion and herbs. This broth will be used to cook the capeeti (small homemade tortellini) in it. The capeeti would be prepared with flour, eggs and water, mixing to a dough, rolling it and cutting out some rounds which would have been filled with a mixture of pork meat, turkey meat, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg and eggs. Just exactly like Tortellini or Ravioli. This tradition is so old, that in Venice it would not be Christmas if you didn't find this dish on the table.
The Capon is then cut into chunks and served as the main dish together with the “Musetto”, a salame similar to the cotechino in shape, but at the same time very different in taste. The worldwide famous cotechino is made using the rind of the pig together with lean and fat pork meat. “Musetto” is made using the meat from the head of the pig (previously boiled) which is minced and then mixed with lean pork meat and spices. The musetto is then cooked in boiling water for a few hours and served in slices.
The Capon and the Musetto are always served on a bed of mashed potatoes (in Italy our mashed potatoes are a more chunky then the American ones) and spinach (either boiled or stewed) together with different sauces like cren (horseradish sauce), mayonnaise, mustard. Many times there will also be the unmissable hot creamy polenta, either yellow or white.
Pandoro (photo courtesy Conanil - Flickr)
And last, but not least, desserts!!!! Venice is famous for having a dessert for every occasion (Carnevale, Easter and so on), but Christmas brings the best out of Venetian bakeries and patisseries and this is reflected on the festive menu. At the end of a very large and succulent meal, Venetians will have for sure first some dried fruits like nuts, walnuts, peanuts, figs, dates followed by the real dessert, which would have come either from a local baker or patisserie: most probably Pandoro (the typical raised all butter soft bread cake from Verona) or Panettone (similar to Pandoro, but filled with raisins and mixed peel), but they might also have Torrone (nougat) or Mostarda con Mascarpone.
Mostarda is a condiment typical of some Northern Italian regions, dating back around the year 1300. Not yellow mustard as Americans know it, mostarda is a condiment of candied fruit and mustard essence. Mostarda allowed people to keep extremely perishable fruit for a long time. A typical mostarda is made with sugar, mustard essence and whole fruits, but Venetian mustard is made with different types of candied fruit and finely chopped quince as well as mustard essence. The combination with the mascarpone cheese makes it a really tasty and delicate dessert.
Obviously all of this opulence would be paired with the best wines the Veneto region can offer: rivers of Prosecco or Raboso, fountains of Merlot or Manzoni, gushes of Soave or Verduzzo. And to end it all the best of dessert wines, like the worldwide famous Cartizze, the Recioto or the Moscato.
So, hoping to have tantalized your taste buds, as we say here, Buon Appetito e Buon Natale!
*This post is part of Wander Food Wednesdays.