christmas / 3 posts found
Merry Christmas from Bella Milan Tours
Mirella & Valeria – together with our four-legged family members – wish you all a very merry Christmas! Whether you are celebrating a secular or religious Christmas, your day is sure to be filled with happiness. You may be wondering what we do for Christmas in Italy. Actually, traditions and customs are quite different in the 20 Italian regions, so there is not just one answer to such question. But all through our country, food is going to be on the front stage during the Holiday Season. So, follow us on a little virtual food tour of Italy and discover what Mirella and I are going to do on Christmas Eve and Day.
In the South of Italy, Christmas Eve is the peak
Valeria’s husband Andrea is from the South of Italy, where Christmas Eve is the peak of season’s celebrations. We will gather at Andrea’s parents’ house and his mamma Iolanda will prepare for us all a so-called “cena di magro”, literally “meagre dinner”, that is meatless dinner. It is supposed to be a light dinner, as a token of respect for the imminent birth of Jesus. But, come on, we are in Italy, a light dinner is blasphemy! So our menu will include risotto with cuttlefish, codfish with bellpepper, and a dessert named “calzuncini”, sort of sweet ravioli stuffed with wine must and chocolate. Definitely, no meagre dinner here. Late in the evening we will go to church for the solemn midnight mass, and when we are back it is finally time to open our gifts.
In Piedmont, Christmas day is the day
Mirella is from Alessandria, in Piedmont, a Northern region with a spectacular food and wine tradition. In the North of Italy Christmas Day is the day, and Christmas lunch the crowning moment. The menu at Mirella’s parents’ always includes typical agnolotti del plin, made with small pieces of flattened pasta dough, folded over a filling of roasted meat or vegetables. A triumph of roasted meat will follow, as lavish and generous as on the table of Henry VIII. Panettone will be the dessert; as a matter of fact it is traditional of Milan, but nowadays it can be found on every Italian table on Christmas Day. And presents? Unwrapping time is in the morning, when the family reunites, after the hugs and kisses and laughter, while everybody is sipping a heart-warming glass of wine and getting prepared for the festive lunch that lies ahead.
This is how we celebrate family ties and show our gratitude for all the things we have. We wish everybody wonder and warmth and happiness and joy. Merry Christmas!
For the Milanese, Christmas time is panettone-time, and even though it seems that panettone has become an obsession for American bakers, well, for us in Milan this luxury bread full of rum-plumped raisins and candied citron is way more than that: it tastes of Christmas, of home, of family.
Baking your own panettone is a tough, demanding process that only the brave can endure, so for most of us the choice is between supermarket or bakery panettone. In either case, when a newly bought panettone comes to your table, the first thing you should do is to warm it slightly by keeping it close to a gentle source of heat. Beware: panettone should not be served hot, a little heat will simply enhance the delicate flavour of butter.
Slices must be generous: panettone represents Christmas, abundance, lavishness, bounty. So forget your daily calorie count and just abandon yourself to its cotton-candy texture.
Versatility is its strength, so do not be afraid to accompany it with other delicacies. One typical recipe is panettone with mascarpone cream, a soft, smooth cream made of mascarpone, fresh eggs, sugar and rum. Basically, that is the same preparation used to make tiramisu’. Just before serving the panettone, ladle a generous tablespoon of mascarpone cream over each slice and enjoy!
By the way, if you have some leftover panettone, simply replace savoiardi biscuits with panettone for a different – but equally delicious – tiramisu’.
But our favourite recipe with panettone is simple, quick and good, and we tipically serve it on February 3rd, Saint Blaise’s Day. By that time, the panettone bought for Christmas will have lost its softness. So cut it into slices, toast them until they are slightly brownish, then sprinkle each slice with vintage brandy and a cloud of powdered sugar. Food for the soul!!!
If you happen to be in Milan on the second week of December, here are 5 things you should know about St Ambrose’s Day, which is celebrated on December 7th.
1 – St Ambrose was the bishop of Milan at the end of the fourth century after Christ. He is the patron saint of Milan, and the Feast of Saint Ambrose is a day off for most people here. Besides, it is followed by another public holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8th, so a lot of Milanese will take the chance to have a nice extra break from work just before the long Christmas holiday. But don’t worry: while companies shut down, shops and stores are well open and happy to welcome you! December 7th is also the best moment to visit the Basilica of St Ambrose, dating from the IV century AD. With the help of a local guide you will discover all the amazing stories surrounding such an ancient building.
2 – St Ambrose’s day is the official start for Christmas Season in Milan, and the moment when Christmas lights were traditionally turned on. But we all want to get into the festive spirit as soon as possible, so thanks to globalization nowadays we have anticipated to Black Friday the day when all Christmas lights are switched on. Yet in the case of the 30-metre Christmas tree standing in Duomo square it seems that tradition will be respected, therefore we have to wait until Thursday evening for the magic moment.
3 – The Feast of St Ambrose in Milan is synonym to “Oh Bej Oh Bej” street market. From December 7th to Sunday 10th , from 8.30 am to 9 pm, the whole area around the imposing Sforza Castle will be busy with people trying an assortment of local food and drinks, as well as shopping at colourful arts and crafts stalls. The funny name of this market, which sounds like “obey”, means “oh beautiful oh beautiful” in local dialect. According to a legend, on December 7th 1510 Giannetto Castiglione, delegate of Pope Pius IV, was visiting Milan and in order to ingratiate himself with the Milanese he entered the city carrying boxes full of sweets and toys for the local children, who welcomed him with cheerful cries: “Oh bej! Oh bej!”
4 – It is on St Ambrose’s Day that the world-famous La Scala Opera House starts its season. La Scala’s opening night is one of the most glamorous annual occasions in Italy, and tickets are only affordable for the happy few, but as usual the premiere – this year, Umberto Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” – will be screened live around the city, so that all milanesi and visitors, and even jail inmates, can enjoy such high point of Milan’s cultural calendar. The opera will be broadcast live (and free) at many venues such as the Octagon of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and even on the national tv channel Rai5.
5 – If you are not really fond of opera, then you may like superstar pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi, who is going to play at Teatro Dal Verme from December 8th to 17th. His shows are almost sold out, so hurry up if you want to listen to his minimalistic, mesmerizing melodies.
BONUS – 6 – If you have kids and you are desperately looking for engaging activities for them, do not miss “City Booming Milano” at Palazzo dei Giureconsulti in via Mercanti (just in front of Duomo). It is a spectacular diorama made of 7 million Lego bricks and representing a megacity with its skyscrapers, streets, shops and 6.000 mini citizens. Look carefully and, among the crowd, you’ll spot Batman, Harrison Ford and the Simpsons!