Chef Antonio Magliulo of La Posta Vecchia shares some menu ideas for the perfect cenone della vigilia (aka Christmas Eve dinner)
In Italy, Christmas Eve dinner – known as il cenone della vigilia – is as important as Christmas Day lunch when it comes to celebrating the holidays. Up and down the country, we gather at the table with family on December 24 to share long, elaborate meals – strictly fish or seafood based, as tradition dictates – and wait together for the stroke of midnight, often over a game of tombola, cards, or in the ISSIMO household, Monopoly.
Il cenone in Italy is a big deal and kicks off everything that makes Christmas special: the family getting together, the partying, gift-giving and especially, the feasting!
Some even prefer it over the pranzo of the following day, and with good reason: the menu of seafood and fresh fish offers a nice alternative to the gut-busting meatfest to come, while the fact it takes place in the evening gives it a sense of revelry that Christmas lunch can’t quite match.
If you don’t usually do Christmas Eve dinner, this year might be a good time to start. To help you with a few dish ideas, we’ve turned to Chef Antonio Magliulo of La Posta Vecchia, our hidden and oh-so chic boutique hotel near Rome.
So read on, take note, and get cooking (and if you like what you read, consider booking a table at The Cesar, La Posta Vecchia’s restaurant, when the property reopens next year).
Lobster with broccolini and white wine
Lobster isn’t the most traditional of Italian dishes for il cenone, but Chef Magliulo suggests you make them exactly because of that. “With so many classics on the table this time of year, it’s nice to think out of the box and do some things a little differently,” he says. “Lobster is great in that respect, as it’s both extravagant and quite fancy. At home, everyone from the grandchildren to the grandparents crowds around in the kitchen when I assemble it, setting the festive mood for the rest of the evening.”
– Cook the lobsters (2 at a time) in abundant boiling water with wine, leek and a sprig of thyme. Keep on the fire for 8 minutes, then let the crustaceans cool in their water, then shell them and extract all the pulp.
– When stripping the shellfish, be careful not to break the claws: if you manage to keep them whole, you can use them when plating the lobster and broccoli for a wow presentation. If you want to turn the recipe into a first course or a single dish, use these ingredients to season linguine or paccheri.
A seafood-based pasta is the perfect primo for il cenone della vigilia—and these tortelli di scampi are just the thing to impress your guests.
“Christmas Eve dinner is about jazzing things up,” Magliulo says. “We like to make dishes that we don’t usually make because they require time or feature slightly more premium ingredients. This fresh pasta is a case in point. It’s filled with scampi and potatoes, topped with raw scampi, then dressed with a saffron and potato cream. It sounds and looks elaborate, but the ingredients are typical of the Italian culinary canon, and the preparation method is really quite easy, if a little time-consuming” The result is worth it: creamy yet light, the tortelli are pillowy delights that pack a flavourful punch.
If making fresh pasta from scratch sounds daunting, other popular Italian dishes for il cenone are spaghetti with clams, fish soup (though a good one is really hard to make!), risotto with scallops or fettuccine with salmon and mascarpone.
Each family has their own traditions and specific dishes – all that matters is that you stick to fish!
Need a little tablescape inspo to make your tortelli pop? Then you might want to consider these joyful dinner plates from Vio. Bold and festive, they’re set to make your dinner sparkle.
Baked sea bass with grilled vegetables
Baked sea bass is a traditional dish of Italy’s Christmas Eve’s menu – as are vegetables, which are a recurrent fixture of any Italian meal. “This is comfort food for me, and a quintessential festive special” Magliulo says, “which is why I like to include it in my family’s cenone. It’s something we all expect to eat on December 24”
To give it a more festive spin, Magliulo cuts the vegetables into thin, dainty morsels, then uses them to decorate the plate. “Presentation is key when it comes to any celebratory meal,” he says. “It makes everything feel extra unique and makes the food pop. Also, it’s a fun activity to engage the kids in.”
Forgo the classic red tablecloth for a more maritime theme – a fun way to pay homage to the fish menu and, why not, dream of summer holidays to come (perhaps with the whole family?). These TAF Ricami Sailor Embroidered Placemat are perfect for the task.
For Chef Magliulo panettone is the only way to finish Christmas Eve dinner right. “We are a panettone family through and through,” he says. “And December 24 is when we start indulging in this all-festive sweet bread.”
Another thing that never misses on his table? Strufoli, a Neapolitan dish made of deep fried balls of sweet dough. “I am from Campania, and strufoli is our dessert of choice,” he says.
For a panettone with an ISSIMO twist, consider adding a generous dollop of Slitti’s Slittosa cacao and hazelnut cream spread to your panettone slice. This is the season to indulge!