When it comes to food, Tuscany never stops giving, especially at Christmas. From the fun filled Christmas markets to festive delicacies, there is always something more to enjoy, especially if you have a sweet tooth.
If you happen to be in Tuscany from December 8th onwards, the whole region is officially in Christmas mode, and tables in homes and restaurants are decked out with all manner of things savoury and sweet. So here’s a little of taste of what you and your stomach can expect over the festive period. And a few ways you can bring it to your own table back home.
Christmas in Tuscany. Food, glorious food!
Christmas might happen around the tree where you’re from, but in Tuscany, it happens around a table. What’s on that table of course varies from place to place, however you can expect there to be a few staples. First off, an antipasto of toasted Tuscan bread with various toppings, (the favourite being a delicious version with chicken liver pate, known as Crostini Toscani).
A first course will often be pasta with sugo, and more often than not, tortellini in brodo – the small stuffed pasta which is cooked, and served in broth (traditionally made from capon). Main course? Well if you’ve been good that year, you’ll be served a great variety of meat dishes though arista (roasted pork) is a firm favourite. Other dishes feature capon, duck, pigeon and guinea fowl.
Making your own pasta is a great way to make a truly authentic dish. But the next best thing is pasta from makers Martelli.
Desserts – Panforte and Ricciarelli
Dessert is where things really get interesting. Pandoro and Panettone are found throughout Italy of course and you’ll certainly find one of these on most tables throughout the Christmas period. But Tuscany has a local tradition of making delicious sweets too, especially the ones that come out at Christmas.
From Ricciarelli, the sweet, soft almond biscuits, to the gooey goodness of Panforte, traditionally made in Siena. You’ll also hear about, and hopefully taste, some Cavallucci which are small biscuits filled with fruit and nuts and flavoured with aniseed. These are served after dinner, before coffee. Or as an afternoon pick-me-up.
There is no time in Italy at which coffee is not appropriate. The smoother and sweeter the better. Every home will certainly have a moka coffee maker somewhere on its shelves. Maker Bialetti has been making them in Tuscany for many years, though it’s place is being usurped by electric espresso makers like Nespresso.
Enjoy a coffee after dinner/lunch/a meal, though whatever you do, don’t have a cappuccino, for a Tuscan, drinking hot milk after dinner is an inexcusable offence to the food and your digestion. Instead why not try caffè corretto. The correzione – or correction, can be added using anything from a little grappa, to amaretto or brandy.
The Christmas Markets in Tuscany
The towns of Tuscany get into the Christmas spirit every year with twinkly Christmas markets and a fantastic round up of Christmas themed gifts and mouthwatering treats. There’s traditionally one in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, where the famous square is bedecked with all manner of food and gift stalls. Venture further afield, and you’ll find Christmas markets in Cortona and Arezzo, the hilltop town of Montepulciano and of course in Siena. They run from the end of November and right through December.
This book will have you cooking up a storm Italian style.
⇒ Discover the traditional Tuscan dishes.
New Year’s Eve and La Befana
New Year’s Eve is a big deal in these parts too. For some this means a fish based meal including shellfish and even lobster. After the carnivorous excesses of Christmas this can make a nice change!
But perhaps the most traditional New Year’s Eve indulgence is the pork based Cotechino or Zampone and lentils, the latter rumoured to bring money to those who eat them. Grapes are also popular at New Year’s Eve for the same reason. The saying goes: “Chi mangia l’uva a Capodanno, conta i quattrini tutto l’anno!” “Whoever eats grapes at New Year will be counting money for the rest of the year!”
But the fun’s not over yet. Epifania on the 6th of January is the last festival of the period and one particularly important for children. This is when the friendly witch known locally as la Befana brings children a stocking full of tasty treats. (Though in truth everyone ends up gorging themselves on chocolates and sweets around this time!) That’s if they are good however. If they aren’t, La Befana gives them coal in their stockings instead!
Recipes from Tuscany have a long tradition and anyone wanting to cook their way into their families’ hearts would do well to try out a few of these classic ideas for the table. Buon appetito everyone!