Italian Christmas traditions: from North to South

Christmas is coming… It’s time to enter this joyful moment of the year, during which everything is lightened and colorful.

And yet I really want all of you who are planning to visit Italy this time of the year to be ready, so let me just introduce the topic, would you? There is something very important to keep in mind when talking about Christmas Italian traditions: there is not such a thing as a single tradition! This is the very first thing to know when talking about Christmas in Italy! If you don’t trust me, you can ask about it to any of our tour guides along our Food Tours, they’ll surely confirm!

 Italian Christmas Traditions

As for many other things, food is a profound marker of Italy’s regional differences. In our country, every single region is proudly rich of its own local culture. One example? Panettone can be bought in any supermarket in Italy, but it is originally baked in the North! There will be no Southern nonna baking it at home!

 Italian Christmas Traditions

The same thing goes for tortellini, which are a tradition of Central Italy, usually homemade for big occasions. During Christmas time, tortellini are prepared in brodo, (in broth) and are served on Christmas day, and might be followed by bollito misto (a mix of boiled meat with special sauces and pickles).

 capitone_umido-986x400

Less famous are the Southern Italy Christmas traditions: in Rome and Neaples for example capitone is a must (even said anguilla in Italian, eel in English). This tradition most probably comes from Neaples, which lays by the sea and make therefore fish available quite easily. Some tried to associate it symbolically to a way of “eating” the devil, since the sneak-like shape of eel. Anyhow, the most traditional families buy the capitone on the 23rd, still alive, to cook it on the 24th. Indeed Capitone is eaten on Christmas eve, since it is a well-known rule widespread all around the country that it is better to eat fish on this day.

 Italian Christmas Traditions

Also typical of most of the Southern regions (Campania, Pulia, Calabria) are the zeppole (also called struffoli in some areas). This dessert is as simple as delicious: it is basically fried sweet bread dough. As easy it may sound, it represents a basic and yet strictly present part of the Christmas eve table. The Southern you go along the boot-shaped country, the wider the variety of sweets gets! Usually, a selection of fruits, both dried and fresh, are offered too (with a copious assortment of nuts). Better to keep it in mind if you ever happen to be invited to an Italian Christmas table, so that you can keep some appetite for the last course!

 

There are many other traditional Italian Christmas dishes! Don’t be shy, be curious and ask more during our Food Tours! Stay tuned for some luscious r

Italy Food Culture presents: “Meet your local guide: Daniele!”

Italy Food Culture presents: “Meet your local guide: Daniele from Milano!”

We’ve been away for awhile but are now back with new entries and new posts! This time we’re taking you to Milan to meet Daniele a witty and personable local guide, that is waiting just for you, to make the most of your visit!

"Hi, this is me!"

“Hi, this is me!”

Name:  Daniele Umberto Lampasona

Nationality and Hometown? I’m originally from Catania, but live in Milan.

Name of tour you lead and where:  I’m in charge of leading the food tours and beer tours. Yes, beer too, because Italian craft beers are terribly good and won’t disappoint any beer lover!

If you are not from the city you are based in for tours, what originally brought you there? As many other families, also mine moved for work reasons from south of Italy to Milan, the richest city of our country. I was 1 year old, so basically…I followed them.

Your favorite part of the tour:  My favourite part is the wine tasting at the enoteca (italian word for wine shop): it’s always a wonderful shop, with wonderful people… and certainly wonderful wine! 

Favorite Local Restaurant in your city:  Rather than a specific place, I prefer recommending neighbourghoods where to live an experience. So I like to suggest the Navigli area and Brera – my favourites – which are so full of restaurants and each focusing on different products, that you can just go there and literally follow your nose.

"The best part of the terraces is the view!"

“The best part of the terraces is the view!”

One thing visitors to your city can’t miss: Going up to the roof of the Duomo (here’s useful link to book a Duomo tour) and actually walking on its tiles. It’s hard to find a similar opportunity in the whole world, and the view from up there is amazing!

What’s next on your travel bucket list? Next week I’m going to Lithuania!

What is your favorite Italian city to travel to?   I’m totally in love with Rome: there are so many things to see and to do that. Although I’ve lived there for a while and I’ve visited it many other times, I always find something new around!

What’s your best travel tip for those coming to visit Italy? Clear your mind from stereotypes and relax.

"mmm...this is mouthwatering delicious"

“mmm…this is mouthwatering delicious”

What’s the food that someone must try in your city before leaving? The combo ossobuco with saffron risotto is a must!

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on one of your tours? Having a prosciutto tasting with some people from Australia who were prosciutto producers and we discussed about all the varieties and the differences between the Australians and Italians cured meet, most memorable!

What do you like most about leading tours? The possibility to learn from each person in my tour groups.

What makes your tour unique? A light and funny atmosphere, seasoned with deep knowledge of the tour. And of course, my hair! 😉

#LasagnaForEveryone: an easy lasagna recipe

There is something about lasagnas that I really can’t tell. As if it could embody all the flavors and all that makes up Italian identity. Lasagnas  is home…

Now, lasagnas  is almost everywhere in the world, but please, please, please do stay away from bad imitations! That doesn’t mean it has to be complicated! You can prepare lasagnas yourself following this very easy lasagna recipe, without spoiling it with shortcuts.

Lasagna: the best of Italian Food

It won’t be like the one you can have in Italy, but it will get really close to it. Have you tasted the best lasagna in Milan? You will have the chance of trying the real authentic taste of this dish at Pastificio Moscova!

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

1 pound lean ground beef

1 pound pork sausage

1  can tomato Sauce

1  can tomato Paste

1  canned chopped tomatoes

1 glass of red wine

1 celery stalck

1 carrot

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 middle-size onion

1 teaspoon of sugar

Salt and black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese

9 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

800 ml of béchamel sauce 

The best way of making lasagna is to cook the ragù sauce a day before. It is just a matter of fact: it tastes so much better the day after. To prepare the ragù heat some extra virgin olive oil in a large pan or a pot (where all of your sauce will fit in the end) and add diced garlic, onion, carrot, parsley and celery. This is the base for most of Italian sauces and the ingredients added are called odori all together. Let them fry for some minutes and then add the ground beef and the sausage over medium heat until browned. That’s where the wine comes in. Over high heat, add a generous glass of red wine until completely absorbed. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, sugar, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now if you have time, the longer your ragù cooks, the better it will taste. So if you have some time, let it cook even for few hours over low heat. You can add water any time you see that it is necessary for the sauce to remain of the right texture: not too dry and not too liquid.

easy lasagna recipe

Once the ragù is ready, let it cool for some minutes (or wait the day after if you can). Preheat the oven at around 180 °/ 356 F. Your lasagnas is almost ready! Start with a layer of lasagna noodles in an ungreased 9 X 13 inch baking dish, then spread the first layer of meat sauce,  few generous spoons of béchamel and parmesan. Repeat layers and top with last 3 noodles and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining béchamel sauce and cover everything with a nice layer of grated  parmesan. Bake for around 50 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. And here you are!

easy lasagna recipe

 Enjoy and do not add anything on it!!!! It will taste just wonderful the way it is! ;).  An easy lasagna recipe that will help us spreading the right lasagnas taste all around the world!!!! And if you pass by Milan, to join us and taste the best lasagna in Milan!

 

Warm up your winter with an Italian cappuccino

What’s better than a hot, foamy cappuccino to start the day?

Hot cappuccino

Hot cappuccino

For us, cappuccino is like morning fuel, it’s absolutely necessary to start the day and it has to be foamy, creamy and hot. Italians are used to good food and they are extremely demanding about it. After all, a good cappuccino can make your day and a bad one, on the other hand, may ruin it.

The secret for a perfect cappuccino is the foam that should come in a rich, creamy and consistent layer. You can ask for some cocoa powder or cinnamon on top.

But what is this cappuccino? Basically consider that is based on a regular espresso, milk and foamed milk. The creamy foam strictly requires whole milk.

The perfect pairing for a perfect breakfast is with a buttery, fragrant brioche. Yes, we know that the correct name for this pastry is croissant, but we call it brioche anyway. If you want to feel and act like a real local, try to order breakfast standing at the counter and saying: Cappuccino e brioche, per favore!

Usually we don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon since it’s considered a breakfast drink. I mean, they’ll serve it to you but if you want to feel like locals, don’t order it after 11 a.m. ;-).

cappuccino-e-brioche

cappuccino-e-brioche

But what’s the origin of this drink? First of all, the name literally means hood, or rather small hood, since it recalls the brown color of the habits used by the Capuchin friars. The first version of this drink appeared for the very first time in Wien, where the first cafés were opened in 18th century and where once a Capuchin friar, asked the barman to mild his coffee with some milk and spices. The first cappuccino was born.

When Austrian have conquered the central and northeastern Italian territories, they  brought with them their habits, “Kapuziner” included, and it became popular mostly in the area of Trieste.

Actually the cappuccino as we know it, descends from these first versions, but has some differences and it became popular only from the beginning of the 20th century, when the first coffee machines were patented by a brilliant, young Italian mechanic born and raised in Milan: Luigi Bezzera. From then on, it has spread all over the world!

Being so proud of our fellow citizen (and being cappuccino addicted), we couldn’t not include this drink in our Food Tour in Milan. The first stop of the tour is in a bakery that smells like fresh bread where we taste cappuccino and a sweet pastry. Drooling? Come and taste a cappuccino in Milan with us!

We bet that now you’re dying for a cappuccino 🙂

MEET YOUR GUIDE IN MILAN: PAOLO

Paolo, your guide in Milan

Come meet Paolo, your guide in Milan!

On our monthly interview we’ll introduce you to your guide in Milan, if you’re going to book a Food Walking Tour he’ll be the one showing you around!

Name: Paolo

Nationality and Hometown? I’m Italian, a genuine, native Milanese!

Name of tour you lead and where: I lead the Milan Food Walking Tour, to introduce you to our culinary traditions and history.

Why you chose to become a touristic guide? I am a tour guide because I love Milan and I want to share its history with you, who come to visit this wonderful city!

Your favorite part of the tour: I can’t tell which is my favorite, because each stop of the tour has its distinctive traits and the owners of the shops where the tastings take place, are nice and friendly and all with a different story to tell. Just walking about Brera district is an experience!

Pizza al Padellino

Favorite Local Restaurant in your city: The pizza by slice of Pizzeria Gaffurio, cooked in the “padellino” with a wood oven! Perfect for a quick meal at the end of the day or between tours.

One thing visitors to your city can’t miss: Milan has many beauties. The monuments and churches of the city are marvelous, but if I have to choose I’d say: the Duomo, the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica and the Navigli (canals, “i canali”) area

Favorite Travel Quote? “I am not the same having seen the Moon shine on the other side of the world” by Mary Anne Radmacher. The sky isn’t the same from everywhere but the only way to find that out is to travel the world.

What’s next on your travel bucket list? On my bucket list’s top is the Trip, with capital “t”: I’m planning to take the Trans Mongolian Express!

Lodi

What’s your best travel tip for those coming to visit Italy? Save a day to visit a small medieval town. People tend to admire only the visible, forgetting what is used to be like before the grandeur of the marbles. In Italy there are many medieval villages and all are beautiful and all are worth spending one of your days visiting.

What’s the food that someone must try in your city before leaving?

Risotto Giallo (Zafferano)

The saffron risotto, without a doubt. Make sure to eat at least once the “risotto giallo” the traditional and most representative dish of Milano.

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on one of your tours? Well, all the tours are unique so it’s hard to tell. What makes the tour worth leading though, is when someone tells me the they never thought that Milan could be so fascinating!

What do you like most about leading tours? What else but meeting people from all around the world, a refreshing experience to compare customs and tradition of one another’s country!

Meet your Guide: Mirella on the Milan Food Tour!

As described in our last article when we interviewed our Florence Food Tour leader, we are rolling out a periodic “Meet Your Guide” interview series for those of you curious about food tours and our foodie guides in Italy. As promised, this edition features one of our guides from Milan- a true gem in the fashion capital of Milano!

Mirella on the Milan Food Tour- spritz included!

Mirella on the Milan Food Tour- spritz included!

Name: Mirella
Nationality and Hometown?
I’m a proud Italian and I live in Milan
Name of tour you lead and where:
Milan Food Walking Tour
If you are not from the city you are based in for tours, what originally brought you there?
I was born and raised in Piedmont the region of wine and truffles, I decided to move to Milan after I graduated in Archaeology, to get a specialization in medieval archaeology, I fell in love with this city and I decided to stay.
Your favorite part of the tour:Mirella Interview Milan
I love to see the faces of my clients when they taste the food, it makes me so proud of our food traditions and of our culture. Moreover, I like to introduce my clients to the city, to show them the real face of Milan, what we do where we go…our habits, I love to make them feel like they were locals going around with a friend.
Favorite Local Restaurant in your city:
In Milan restaurants, bars, shops change quick and there’s always something new to discover. My favorite restaurant? It depends on my mood, for a hip night out, in this moment, I’d say the Dry, a combination between modernity and tradition, a mix between a pizzeria and a cocktail bar, trendy but affordable with a very cosmopolitan vibe and delicious food. When I want a casual atmosphere and to feel like at home, I choose one of the old and simple trattorias that is still possible to find in Milan, like Il Brutto Anatroccolo, Da Martino or the Trattoria Sabbioneda.

The Gothic Dome of Milan

The Gothic Dome of Milan

One thing visitors to your city can’t miss:
I know it could sound ordinary, but absolutely the cathedral. The Duomo is the symbol of the city, a summary of the history of this city since the building has lasted seven centuries, it passed through wars and domination and each historical episode left a mark on it. Every time I climb on the top and see the statues from closer and the city from above, I feel lucky.
Favorite Travel Quote?
“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot” by Bruce Chatwin one of my favorite writers and an archaeologist himself.
What’s next on your travel bucket list?
During the year I love to spend weekends visiting cities, in summer…anywhere in Mediterranean area: Italy, Greece, Spain, I love this part of the world, is where our culture was born and this is the sea where Ulysses – my favorite literary character ever traveled.
What is your favorite Italian city to travel to?  
Hard to say! I loved Venice when I’ve visited in the slow season and I felt as if I were in a 3D watercolor, but every time I see Rome I’m overwhelmed by the beauty and the “eternity” of this city.

Tastes of Italy...not to miss

Tastes of Italy…not to miss

What’s your best travel tip for those coming to visit Italy?
Come here with an open mind (and empty belly) and try to taste everything: beauty, smells, sun, experiences, food. Meet the locals, talk with them, look around the corner, just don’t stay on the surface.
What’s the food that someone must try in your city before leaving?
Well, Milan like all the Cosmopolitan cities is a food mecca so you can find the best in terms of quality and variety but at the end a good risotto is always a good risotto, so go in a local trattoria and order a Risotto alla Milanese!
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had on one of your tours?
Actually every time is different and every time is memorable. When I’m at the end of a tour, I see the happy faces of my clients and that makes me feel that I’m a privileged doing this job.
What do you like most about leading tours?
I love the fact that when I’m doing a tour, I feel like I’m the gate between my city, my culture and other cultures. I love to tell about the food we taste and about the fact that everything is connected with other aspects, like the wine which is connected with the soil, with the weather and with the tradition. The name of the Mondeghili meatballs we offer during the tour for instance is connected with the Spanish domination, I truly love the fact that doing a food tour I can mix many aspects together.
What makes your tour unique?
The fact that takes place in a residential area, not touristic and still charming where is easy to follow the rhythm of the people living this city instead of the one of the compulsive city tours, the high quality of the food and the care we’ve put in selecting places and bites and yeah, the passion I put into it.

Want to taste and discover Milan with Mirella? Book a tasty Milan Food Tour and in the booking process, make sure to request this bubbly gem. Mirella knows her stuff, for sure!