I have finally recovered from my first-ever holiday cultural immersion. This year was the first time I spent Christmas away from home and although I was sad to be away from my family, especially after our amazing holiday celebration last year, I was definitely looking forward to being welcomed with open arms into another family. I suspected I would be welcomed for the holidays just as I was at employee parties, and I was right!
We started the day around noon, as per usual for Italian families celebrating on Christmas Day, while other families celebrate with Christmas Eve dinner and gift-giving at midnight, with Santa coming the following morning. These traditions are fairly comparable to those in the States. My family tends to hang out all day drinking wine on the 25th and snacking before having dinner late, but my family is just kind of cool like that.
We arrived at noon to open presents and take some photos as a family (and yes, I was fully involved in both! Lucky girl I am!). Then around 1pm the rest of the family arrived; aunts, uncles and cousins, and we started our feast.
I’m making this post mostly about food because that’s what you readers wanted to hear and see! Plus, most Italian traditions revolve around food anyway!
Anitpasti was a very typical round of crostini with paté (Crostini Toscani) and crostini with olive spread. Generally, I’m not a fan of liver in any form (unless it’s clearing toxins) but these little crostini are growing on me. Besides, anything homemade is always better. Once I admitted to enjoying my free sample, there was no going back; I was almost force-fed from that point on.
Once we all sat down around the table the freshly handmade ravioli were brought out, basking in all their glory. The pasta was so fresh that it came apart in each bite as if it had just been pressed only minutes before. There were platters full of ravioli stuffed with spinach and potato topped with hot, meaty ragú.
The main dishes were coupled with delightful sides of perfectly toasted rosemary potatoes, garlicky peas and, of course, Tuscany’s famous salt-less bread. No meal is complete without it and it’s one thing that even the Tuscans don’t seem proud of.
Lunch was brought to a close with a beautiful spread of desserts from all over Italy. Lorenzo’s sister spent what must have been hours slaving over the oven for the occasion, presenting a chocolate-chocolate cake (from a French recipe) and Christmas cut-outs spread with sugar frosting, just like home! There was also drop cookies made with sugar dough and powdered sugar and Pandoro which is a typical Italian Christmas cake; sweet bread with a powdered sugar coating! However, the star of the show was the very particular cake from the Abruzzo region of Italy, made by Lorenzo’s Zia. It was a cake made with grains, nuts and dried fruits. Being that I enjoy sweets that are properly sweet (loved that chocolate cake!), it wasn’t my favorite choice, but in the name of trying all traditional things I had a slice anyway!
Being thoroughly stuffed and ready for my traditional nap, I couldn’t have imagined anything else. Until his cousins begged me to play a game of Twister with them! I am not as strong or flexible as I used to be!
After hours of watching TV, chatting and a quick visit to the other side of the family, I asked Lorenzo when we were planning to scoot on home and do you know what his response was?
“We haven’t had dinner yet…” I’m sorry, I must have misheard you…
Around 8:30pm we sat down for dinner, as if we could all fathom the thought of stuffing more food in! I did just that, sans camera this time assuming it wouldn’t be as grabbing as the elaborate lunch. Boy, was I wrong!
I pride myself on my ability to stand up to a challenge and my open-mindedness to try new things that most people wouldn’t think twice about. My secret? I don’t think the first time.
Lorenzo’s dad, the joker of the family, set a plate of grey-looking sliced meat on the table in front of me.
I gave him a questionable look. I don’t think I wanted to know what it was. I noticed the tell-tale bumps around the rather… slimy looking edge of each slice. Last year I was offered rabbit for the first time, there was a big joke all around the table that the strange looking meat was, in fact, cat. I hoped I was in for a similar joke tonight. Again, no such luck. Lingua della Mucca. I’ll give you one guess on the translation.
Lorenzo’s Zio disclosed his little secret that in all of his years of being Italian (which was all of his years) he’s never tasted tongue either. Wrong move mate. I had my partner in chance. I made him promise that we’d try it together. In all the hype that ensued I never properly monitored his intake of “cow tongue” and therefore will never know if I was on my own in this adventure. In the end, that and the “hoof” I was offered, weren’t considerably bad tasting, a little mayo goes along way (a tip from the Italians). It was the texture that bothered me. I mean, shocking as it may be, tongue actually has the texture of tongue. No one try to act like you don’t know that texture all too well. It may be a pleasant thing for you now, so my advice is to keep it that way. Then again, my advice would also be not to back down from a challenge… so I’ll leave that one up to you.
All-in-all, my first-ever Italian Christmas was a success beyond measures! By the end of almost twelve hours I was even chattin’ up the Zia and Zio without even realizing it wasn’t my language I was speaking!
The dinner was less wine-filled (shockingly) and less about chillin’ on the sofa with no shoes than I’m used to but it was just as family-oriented and the food, well that you can see for yourself!