How do you celebrate Christmas? What do you eat and drink? It depends on who you ask. In a festive mini-series, we quizzed seven foodie Londoners from various cultural backgrounds about their festive food, drink, customs and traditions. Here’s what they had to say…
Originating from Piedmont and now settled near Crouch End and Muswell Hill, Luisa Vogliolo-Welch is the founder of I-mage Communications, a food and drink PR company. Her Italian clients include, among many others, Pizza Rossa and Spaghetti House, and she likes hanging out at her local Italian deli Italica at weekends.
“The first thing I must tell you is that Italians, even the ones living abroad, tend to stick to the traditions of their own region. A lot of it reflects customs and practises back home, plus the availability of ingredients here. I’m from Piedmont. In London, there’s a Piedmontese Association, and we celebrate with a Christmas dinner in a different restaurant each year.
The one thing that links all Italians, no matter which region they’re from, is antipasti. Antipasti are very important at Christmas, and there’ll be at least 15 varieties on the table. We start with typical charcuterie, such as prosciutto crudo, prosciutto cotto, salame crudo, salame cotto, mortadella and coppa. Next will be vegetable antipasti like chargrilled vegetables with bagna càuda (a type of anchovy sauce), or home-preserved vegetables such as zucchini. We preserve different vegetables in the summer months to eat during the festive season.
Finally, there’ll be what we call ‘richer antipasti’. This includes bresaola with shaved parmesan, olive oil, lemon and pepper; and vitello tonnato – veal braised for two hours in a peppercorn and vegetable broth, left overnight, then thinly sliced and served with tuna and home-made mayonnaise, with a garnish of capers and black olives. The meat is pink inside, and it’s a very pretty dish. People can be a bit funny about veal though, so I don’t buy it but use rolled breast of chicken or turkey instead, and cook it in the style of vitello tonnato. It’s not traditional but this year I’ll be having smoked salmon too, as I like it so much!
The first course is stuffed pasta, such as ravioli or agnolotti, traditionally the ‘del plin’ variety which is rectangular and pinched. The stuffing is made from three types of meat – veal, beef and pork – plus eggs and parmesan. It’s not served with a sauce, but with the juices of roast meat. Now this meat could be anything, but it’s often pot-roast beef. We do have capon in Italy, but it’s not common – roast meat is preferred as long as it’s rich and delicate.
This year I’m making brasato al barolo – beef braised in barolo wine with rosemary, bay leaves, onions, carrots and celery. You can’t go wrong with onions, carrots and celery in any dish! It’s a very fine, delicate item; and all the vegetables get blended into a sauce afterwards. It’s this sauce – not British-style gravy – that we eat with the meat. The dish is eaten with mashed potatoes and vegetables. No butter is used; everything’s cooked in olive oil — and we always use the best quality.
This is followed by a simple mixed green salad as a palate cleanser. And then I’ll follow this with cheeses — castelmagno if I can find it, otherwise something like gorgonzola or fontina. Then we’ll have a bowl of fruit, and finish with panettone – a friend is even bringing vegan panettone this year. We always drink moscato spumante, which is sweet. And coffee, there’s always coffee. Then we all go out for a walk.
If I were in Italy, after Christmas lunch I’d go out and buy a tray of pastries, as is traditional. Then in the evening, we’d have cappelletti in brodo – pasta in broth – as well as salad, cheese, fruit and the pastries bought earlier. And we’d drink grappa. Some regions of Italy have Christmas dinner on 24 December, based on fish.”
Try it yourself: Italian eating and drinking in London
Stock up on Italian produce at Valentina Fine Foods in Chiswick, Italian Farmers in Stroud Green, or Deli Nineteen in Blackfriars — we’ve featured them all in our Best New Food Shops series.
There’s no shortage of places in London to get your hands around Italy’s most famous export. Narrow down the list with our selection of London’s Best Pizza Restaurants.
Sort the bellissimo from the blah, with our pick of London’s Best Italian Restaurants.
Drink and buy Italian wines and prosecco at Old Brompton Road’s Vini Italiani, Smithfield’s Vino & Vino, or Enoteca Super Tuscan in Spitalfields — they all serve on site and sell bottles to take away. You'll also find some good value prosecco options in our round-up of London's Best Bars For Affordable Fizz.
Also in the series:
What’s A Russian Christmas In London Like?
What’s A Goan Christmas In London Like?
What’s An Ethiopian Christmas In London Like?
What’s A Spanish Christmas In London Like?
What’s A West-African-Greek-British Christmas In London Like?
What’s A German Christmas In London Like?