When it comes to cooking fabulous food, Italians know a thing or two. And when it comes to cooking for Christmas festivities, it's impossible to go wrong with Italian cuisine.
Many Italian American families celebrate the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, or Feste dei Sette Pesce. According to the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, a national organization whose mission is to celebrate its members' ancestral heritage, the Feast of the Seven Fishes became an annual celebration for Christmas Eve when people from Southern Italy immigrated to the U.S. The number seven is symbolic in Catholicism and represents the "creation of the world in seven days, the Seven Hills of Rome, the seven sacraments, seven sins, or even the Seven Virtues of Catholicism. Whether you have Italian in your ancestry or just love the food, sitting down to a multi-course meal that spans the length of the evening on Christmas night or eve is a perfect idea.
Why? In addition to being downright delicious, Italian ingredients have a particular magic that truly light up a Christmas spread. Maybe it’s the vibrant red tomatoes, pasta like tinsel draped around silver forks, stewed meats and roasts that warm the body and soul from the inside-out or the creamy cheesecake — light as snow and ornamented with yellow lemon rounds.
Here are 20 amazing Italian Christmas recipes superstar chefs like Giada De Laurentiis, Lidia Bastianich and Andrew Carmellini to try for aperitivo, plus pastas, mains, sides and desserts. We promise you'll be saying "buon Natale" (that's Merry Christmas in Italian!) in no time.
Aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks)
Aperol Spritz by John Alberti and Tony Alberti
From humble beginnings in little bars across Northern Italy, the Aperol spritz ritual has spread across the continents, with people all around the globe connecting through their love of Italy's No. 1 cocktail. Light, refreshing with a unique bittersweet taste, the Aperol spritz is the perfect drink to start the evening. And with this recipe, you can have it anywhere in the world: Simply bring together the people you love and make sure you've got enough ice and orange slices!
Classic Negroni Cocktail by Anthony Contrino
Anyone (of legal drinking age) who loves Italian cuisine or culture has to try this classic cocktail. A Negroni is best known for its delicate balance of bitter, citrusy and sweet flavors. Paired with some olives, it's the perfect pre-dinner drink.
Cranberry-Rosemary Mule by Anthony Contrino
"Meet your new favorite holiday cocktail: the Cranberry-Rosemary Mule," says Anthony Contrino. "Now, I almost never drink, but sometimes I create a cocktail that is so good that I even drink it! I created this for a dinner party, and I couldn't make them fast enough."
Antipasti (starters) e insalata (salad)
Easy Jumbo Shrimp Wrapped in Pancetta and Sage by Andrew Carmellini
For a Feast of Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve or entertaining on Christmas Day, try these juicy prawns that can be served as hors d'oeuvres or an appetizer.
Baked Clams Oreganata by Elaina Scotto and Anthony Scotto
Baked clams oreganata are a must-have for a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Delicate, but also packed with flavor, these little jewels from the sea are great as a starter or a main attraction.
Italian Marinated Seafood Salad (Insalata di Mare) by Anthony Scotto and Elaina Scotto
This impressive seafood salad is part of Anthony and Elaina Scotto's Feast of the Seven Fishes menu for Christmas Eve.
Giada's Crispy Orzo Salad by Giada De Laurentiis
This chopped antipasti salad has a twist that takes it to the next level: crunchy orzo! It is crispy, crunchy, refreshing and satisfying all at once.
Baked Clams by Anthony Contrino
"When I think about how many baked clams we go through on Christmas Eve, it's absurd — my brother can wipe out a couple dozen himself!" says Contrino. "We always make more than we need and whatever is leftover gets served on Christmas Day."
Insalata Verde by Jody Williams and Rita Sodi
"We are devoted to this salad. We eat it every day. We crave it, in fact, and it is at our dining table nightly," say Rita Sodi and Jody Williams.
Fritto Misto (Fried Seafood and Vegetables) by Anthony Scotto and Marion Scotto and Elaina Scotto
Who doesn't love crispy fried food? This mix of fried seafood and vegetables is a classic Italian dish that's perfect for Feast of the Seven Fishes or any dinner party.
Fish Salad by Anthony Contrino
Almost every Italian American family we know makes some sort of a cold fish salad to serve on Christmas Eve. They are usually pretty similar, a medley of seafood mixed with onion, garlic, parsley and celery in a lemon vinaigrette. While we often make this version, I find that all those strong flavors overpower the fish. By sautéing the fennel, shallot and garlic, you mute the flavors so that the fish is the star. And, since orange pairs so well with fennel, an orange vinaigrette ties it all together. This, too, can be made a day or two in advance.
Primi (first course)
Spicy Italian Mackerel Spaghetti by Stephanie Harris-Uyidi
As a member of the tuna family, mackerel is a delectable, yet underrated fish that deserves more attention! A firm, high-fat fleshed fish, it's known for its bold, savory flavor. Tinned mackerel is popular throughout the Mediterranean in places like Italy, where it's referred to as sgombro (Atlantic mackerel) and enjoyed in sandwiches, salads and right out of the can.
Seafood Stuffed Shells by Reed Alexander
This dish combines so much that we love about Italian food — pasta shells, fresh herbs, marinara, succulent shrimp and scallops — in one single dish that can easily and affordably feed a family.
Slow-Cooker Spinach Lasagna by Maggie Shi
Celebrate Christmas the Italian way. This classic dish is surprisingly successful and easy to make in your Crock-Pot. So let your slow cooker do the work if you're having a lot of guests over.
Spaghetti with Shrimp Fra Diavolo by Elaina Scotto and Anthony Scotto and Marion Scotto
This dish is perfect for an easy seafood dinner on a holiday weeknight or a fancier meal like the Italian Feast of Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve.
Cacio e Pepe with Pancetta and Arugula by Giada De Laurentiis
Giada De Laurentiis has plenty of pasta dishes but there's something incredibly comforting about this classic. Classic cacio e pepe gets a beautiful hit of additional saltiness from pancetta and more peppery bite from the leafy green arugula.
Tagliatelle and Italian Sausage with Sage Cream Sauce by Tony Alberti and John Alberti
Creamy, rich and way easier than it looks, this fast pasta dinner idea comes from twin Italian chefs Tony and John Alberti. Fresh sage makes the sauce especially fragrant. Serve the pasta topped with crispy fried sage leaves.
Secondi (meat and seafood)
Italian Seafood Stew (Zuppa di Pesce) by Anthony Scotto and Elaina Scotto
This recipe for zuppa di pesce (Italian fish soup) is loaded with shrimp, clams, mussels, sea bass and calamari in a lightly spiced tomato white wine broth with cannellini beans.
Baccalà alla Livornese (Braised Salt Cod) by Elaina Scotto and Anthony Scotto
Once you've soaked the salt cod, this Italian baked fish with potatoes, olives, capers and garlic comes together quickly and easily.
Lidia Bastianich's Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Onions by Lidia Bastianich
Although it's made with just a handful of ingredients, this pork tenderloin looks (and tastes!) very impressive. Pork tenderloin is a very lean cut of meat, meaning this simple recipe is healthy, too. You can use any combination of onions you like, as long as you have about 8 cups in total.
Short Ribs Braciole by Andrew Carmellini
This tender meat dish is a no-brainer since it's a crowd-pleasing main course for Christmas.The meat literally just melts in your mouth and the mouthwatering gravy is perfect over pasta or polenta.
Pork Chop Agrodolce by Giada De Laurentiis
These chops have a balanced rich flavor (agrodolce means "sweet and sour") and they're made without the addition of a lot of unnecessary fats.
Grilled Salmon with White Bean and Spinach Salad by Elaina Scotto and Anthony Scotto
This superfood-packed meal is part of the Scotto family's Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve, but it would be lovely any time of year. If it's too cold to grill outside, feel free to cook the salmon in a grill pan.
Contorni (side dishes)
Lidia's Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Bacon by Lidia Bastianich
Bacon makes everything better ... right? That's according to Italian celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich who makes her sauteed Brussels sprouts with walnuts and bacon.
Spaghetti Squash with Sage and Walnuts by Andrew Carmellini
If you have a couple dinner guests that are living the low-carb life, this delicious dish will be perfect to serve. It's so aromatic that it makes a great textural complement to meaty dishes like the Short Ribs Braciole, but also hearty enough that pasta lovers will likely be flocking to this plate, too!
Ina Garten's Roasted Broccolini by Ina Garten
Broccolini is a hybrid between broccoli and Chinese kale. Besides looking a little more elegant than traditional broccoli, it has a unique taste that is more bitter and slightly peppery. All you need to do is toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper, toss it on a sheet pan, and roast it to perfection. Side dishes don't get any easier than this!
Nutella Cake by John Alberti and Tony Alberti
Long meals can certainly make guests a little weary. Perk them up with this delicious drink: an espresso martini. The Alberti brothers serve it with an over-the-top Nutella cake for an all-around excellent chocolate buzz.
Italian Cheesecake with Biscotti Crust by Andrew Carmellini
This gorgeous dessert has a luscious ricotta filling and an irresistible biscotti crust.
Italian Rainbow Cookies by Anthony Contrino
"I’m not going to lie, these cookies are a project, but they are so worth it. There’s something really special when you combine the delicate almond sponge cake with raspberry jam, apricot jam and chocolate glaze. Plus, they look so gorgeous and festive, you'll have guests impressed for long after the party ends," says Contrino.
Orange Polenta Cake by John Alberti and Tony Alberti
Try serving this lovely orange cake with a citrusy sparkling cocktail. The Alberti brothers suggest serving the cake with non-dairy ice cream, but it would also be delicious with regular ice cream.
Tiramisu Parfaits by Grace Parisi
Come dessert time, serving individual glasses of tiramisu is a piece of cake (well, not literally). Not only will these impress your guests, but everyone is guaranteed to get their own portion.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com