By Matilde Crivelli, founder The Italian Capsule
“Traditional recipes and long-established gestures are trademarks of a society that, regardless of its ever-growing speed, secretly aspires to remain grounded in its historical spirit.” Matilde Crivelli, Founder The Italian Capsule
As I take a seat at the table, I get to notice all the bits and pieces that my grandmother skilfully put together: a Christmas, festive, symposium-oriented disposition typically arranged by most Italian grandmothers. The table is set, ready to welcome the family members who’ll find their seats thanks to handwritten nameplates. The seating plan is not random but designed to follow a sort of hierarchy. Indeed, the older members will find themselves in the most prestigious seats, next to the younger ones who will be at their disposal for passing and – perhaps – serving the delicacies prepared by my grandma.
Starters pass by in the blink of an eye; sockeye smoked salmon, gelatine canapés of all sorts, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – strictly to be served with Aceto Balsamico di Modena for topping purposes, extra-thin aubergines with parsley and garlic, and for a glorious end, ham and tuna mousse and Insalata Russa, carefully handmade according to grandma’s long-standing recipe. At this point, while feeling already full, we’ll go ahead by taking a few sips of the Southern Tuscany red wine on the table – this year, a Brunello di Montalcino that keeps us dancing with the atmosphere.
Let’s talk dirty now. Main courses are simply irresistible. To the children, grandma serves a rich, multi-layered lasagna, that will do the job. For adults, the main course is la trippa, a dish typical of many Italian regions, although my grandma’s one is – of course – the best. She cooks it for many hours in its broth to degrease the meat, before adding a few sage leaves to exalt the flavour with herbal aromas. The result is an amazing, textured soup that every year warms up our souls.
Once finished, we take a seat on the fluffy couch with vintage floral decorations, beginning to wonder if our body was prepared to intake that much food. It doesn’t matter! It’s Christmas, so we just take another sip of that Brunello and let the show continue until dessert time. By now, my grandfather is giving teardrops of Franciacorta wine to my two-year-old cousin sitting on his laps. As the little creature starts laughing his heart out, it is time for a joyful toast. Everyone stands up and express thankfulness for this glorious day, for having a family and for being lucky enough to share all the good food at our table “Buon Natale”.
And just like that, it is Panettone’s turn. The legend goes that this tradition was inaugurated back in the 1400s by the Duke Sforza of Milan, who used to offer a slice of Panettone to his guests on Christmas Eve. Later, in the 19th Century, yeast and candied fruit embellished this soft dessert, making it more attractive for the refined palates of the Belle Epoque. In recent years, Panettone has made a comeback thanks to the experiments of several world-renowned chefs, who are pursuing the creation of a unique, signature version of this centuries-old recipe. If you wish to buy what I believe to be the best artisanal Panettone, check out Antica Osteria Magenes, a restaurant located in a minuscular village hidden among paddy fields outside Milan, that boasts a century-old family recipe. And, if you wish to honour the tradition at its finest, don’t forget to save a slice of it for February the 3rd, San Biagio’s day, the patron of ailments.
Christmas is the only day in the whole year that repeats itself cyclically and stays frozen in time. In a way, it is supposed to be the same as the year before, and the one before that, and so on. However, although Christmas traditions remain naturally well-preserved, it is still the role of those who celebrate it to keep them truly alive. Traditional recipes and long-established gestures are trademarks of a society that, regardless of its ever-growing speed, secretly aspires to remain grounded in its historical spirit. Thank you, Christmas, we are all very impatient to see you again next year!
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Are you planning a friend or family get-together in Italy? How about renting a design-apartment in the heart of Venice? This BMJ’s Travel Experience is for culturally curious travellers looking for an Italian escape to spend some time with their dear ones in a vibrant town, as well as taking part in immersive experiences with locals.