Christmas in Southern Italy: culinary delights during the festivities

Fish in “crazy water”, salted cod fritters, spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs or with clams. “Beccafico” stuffed sardines and lively peppered mussels. Orecchiette and “fregole” (a traditional Sardinian pasta), with squid and seafood and char-grilled eels cooked on laurel leaves.

In short, before the Nativity, and until midnight, fish is a must on Christmas tables in homes or restaurants throughout the regions of Southern Italy.

Let’s try and put an order to the thousand and more traditional recipes for the Christmas festivities, starting from the basic dishes. From fish in Campania, but also in Puglia and Sicily, and from meat in Sardinia with oven baked kid and the more famous “porceddu”, the piglet bred only with maternal milk. Cheeses and spicy salami for starters, in Calabria and Basilicata, but also in Puglia and Sardinia with the pecorino Dop and Bio, regular guests in all dishes based on fresh pasta and meat sauces, like the “strascinati” lucani (fresh pasta from Lucania), served with the Christmas soup with scarole, savoy cabbage and cardoons. “Minestra maritata” (wedding soup) also in Campania, is a soup made with over twenty local vegetables, boiled with pork and left to flavour for a full day, before taking centre stage on the table on Christmas day together with the insalata dei “rinforzi” (reinvigorating salad) made with pickled vegetables and cabbage.

No inventions or far-fetched pairings in the kitchen: in the South, respect for the culinary tradition during the Christmas festivities has been handed down for generations and without distortions dictated by culinary trends. It is worth waiting all year for the salted cod, served with the crunchy “cruschi” peppers in Calabria and fried with extra virgin olive oil in Campania.

Low-calorie diets are banned and space is given to fried foods: in Basilicata you will try the fritters with lampascione, a wild flavoursome onion; in Sardinia, the "iscabecciu", fish coated in durum wheat semolina and the delicious "orziadas", breaded sea anemones served with pepper and lemon.

A triumph of flavours made in Southern Italy which merge in an unregulated fashion, but with a plethora of variations on a single theme, yet again, of the regional gastronomic tradition. Meat abounds in the dishes of Puglia, with the age-old ritual of preparing baked lamb with potatoes, cooked with wine of Salento and plenty of sweet pecorino cheese.

Much more than a separate chapter is dedicated to Christmas desserts. Here, you will find a map of the key Christmas desserts of the six regions of Southern Italy and the recipes to prepare them together with a few secrets which will only be revealed at the table, when you will have booked a holiday in the Southern regions and be ready for a unique and truly once-in-a-lifetime sensory experience.