Traditional Italian Christmas foods: pandoro
Italian Lifestyle

Italian Christmas Foods: traditional foods you’ll love

Traditional Italian Christmas foods to try in Italy or replicate back home to give your holiday table an Italian twist

Food is a big deal in Italy and Christmas is a big deal in Italy, so when the two comes together, it is easy to imagine the result: a delicious extravaganza of food like no other!

Italy has many culinary traditions that vary from region to region. However, there are some traditional Italian Christmas foods you find absolutely everywhere and are staples of the festive season in Italy.

These are some of the most popular and favorites.

Good to know! Many Italian Christmas Foods can be sourced abroad too or replicated at home. Pandoro, Panettone, Torrone, Panforte and Ricciarelli are perfect examples of store-bought Christmas food and tortellini and fresh pasta are also easily bought and it is totally acceptable in Italy too. No one expects you to hand made tortellini, not even at Christmas!

Traditional Italian Food for Christmas: need to know

Christmas is a big celebration in Italy and Italian families go all out preparing meals that, depending on family preferences and styles, are more or less close to the foods of tradition.

if you want to create an authentic Italian Christmas meal at home, you can pick and choose any foods from this list and create your own Christmas meal Italian style.

The only overarching rule to consider are:

Christmas Eve dinner is usually dominated by fish and seafood dishes.

This comes from the religious tradition of having a lean day before the big Christmas festivity of the 25th of December although nowadays it is a cultural tradition more than a religious one.

You can find our guide to creating a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner here

Traditional Italian Christmas appetizers

Enter any Italian home at Christmas and you will find a spread of lovely appetizers and starters waiting for you.

Traditional Italian appetizers for Christmas are:

  • Cured meats – salame, finocchiona, cacciatorino (a type of salami), mortadella, parma ham
  • Smoked salmon crostini
  • Vol-au-vent with ricotta and spinach (this is a similar filling to those you have for ravioli)
  • Capitone (fish)
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Russian salad (often offered as a side too)
  • Pesce di guerra (Lit. ‘ war fish’), a mix of potatoes and tuna served cold and shaped as a fish
  • Crostini misti (selection of crostini with different types of pates, usually a mix of vegetable, meat and fish options)

Traditional Italian Christmas food: main courses

  • Tortellini in Brodo
  • Lasagna – traditional or also with local twists such as lasagna al pesto or fish lasagna
  • Pennette al salmone (short penne pasta with creamy smoked salmon sauce)
  • Pasta with gorgonzola and walnuts
  • Pappardelle ai funghi
  • Canederli/ Knodels (this is a specialty of Trentino Alto Adige specifically)
  • Gnocchi saffron and pancetta
  • Risotto alla pescatora (seafood risotto, served especially in Christmas Eve)
  • Fish ravioli
Tortellini in Brodo: traditional Italian Christmas foods
Tortellini in Broth, a Traditional Italian Recipe, with Red Wine

Fish and meat: Italian main courses for Christmas

Fish dishes traditionally dominate the tables on Christmas Eve so on Christmas Day the most popular main courses are meat based.

  • Roast chicken and potatoes
  • Veal Rolle’ with frittata and spinach (roast veal, layered with frittata and sauteed spinach, the rolled up and cooked in a casserole or oven)
  • Vitel Tonne’ – thin slices of roasted veal with creamy tuna sauce and capers
  • Salsiccia with cime di rapa (Italian sausages and turnip greens)
  • Roast pork with apple sauce and prunes

Italian Christmas desserts

Italian Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas desserts and the most popular are:

  • Panettone, traditionally with raising and candied fruit
  • Pandoro, traditionally plain, with dusting sugar sprinkled on top

Fun fact! Italians love to argue over what is best: Pandoro or Panettone. You can find all about this Pandoro vs Panettone debate and some fun facts about both here!

  • Torrone and torroncini, hard and soft, black and white, depending on personal preference

I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of Italian Christmas Foods and it gave you good ideas on what to taste if visiting Italy in December and what to cook to recreate a traditional Italian Christmas meal at home!

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Marta Correale is an Italian mama of two. Born and raised in Rome, Marta has a passion for travel and especially enjoys showing off Italy to her kids, who are growing up to love it as much as she does! A classics graduate, teacher of Italian as a second language and family travel blogger, Marta launched Mama Loves Italy as a way to inspire, support and help curious visitors to make the most of a trip to Italy and learn about Italian culture on the way.