An Italian Christmas

Elena talks to us about her family food traditions during the festive season, and how she plans to celebrate this year.

Originally from a small town located in the heel of Italy’s boot, Elena now lives in Bristol. She loves nothing more than to cook incredible Italian dishes learnt from family recipes.

Christmas time has always been special for me and now that I live abroad, this felling intensifies with the strong desire to be alongside my family at my Mum’s house in Salento.

From the first days of December and precisely from the 8th, which commemorates ‘Festa dell’Immacolata’ the Christmas spirit is already evident in the small town of Parabita in south-east Italy where I grew up.

Walking around Parabita and in almost every other town in Salento, you are surrounded by the enchanting smell of traditional dishes being prepared with love by the local residents on the eve of this special annual celebration.

From all the culinary efforts made during the festive season, making Pittule is an absolute must. These small dough balls can be prepared as an aperitif or as a sweet treat for after a meal. Some choose to brush them with sugar or honey, or they can be dipped in a thick wine-based syrup (called vincotto). Others opt for a popular savoury version known as pizzaiol by adding ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, black olives, and capers.

My sister Silvia’s Pittule Salentine recipe

500 gr of Flour

10 gr of fresh yeast

1 tb of salt

½ tsp of sugar

400 ml room temperature water

  1. Mix salt and flour in a bowl.
  2. Dissolve the yeast into a cup with a small amount of water, add sugar and leave it to rest for a few minutes.
  3. Pour the water with the yeast into the flour and gradually add the remaining water, while stirring it constantly with your hands.
  4. Continue to stir energetically to reach a fluffy dough. The dough will be ready when air balls start to show.
  5. Let it leaven for at least three hours.
  6. Create small dough balls with the help of a wet tablespoon and your hand forming a ring between your index finger and thumb.
  7. Place them into the hot oil. Let them reach a light brown colour
  8. Serve, eat and enjoy!

And… Buon Appetito

My family tradition is to come together on Christmas Eve for dinner and wait for midnight when the children flock to the gracefully decorated Christmas tree to open their presents. The Christmas Eve dinner menu is mainly full of seafood and fish dishes. The Christmas Day lunch mainly meat dishes. I really enjoy coming together to cook with my mum and my sisters.

My sister, Silvia makes the best Pittule I have ever tasted (I am so proud of having learnt from her). My elder sister, Florinda ensures the roast beef is cooked to perfection. I prepare starters and sides, while my mum puts together the Pasta al Forno ready to go into the oven.

It’s a true effort of teamwork and we all work hard to make it happen. It’s not only food that unites us, but also the sharing of Christmas songs, stories and poems, told by the little ones, that bring us together.

Different sweets grace the table, including panettone, pandoro, torroni and torroncini, plus some typical local sweets such as purceddhruzzi and cartellate.

Although this year, it won’t be possible to share this feast with my family in Italy, I’ll let my thoughts fly to Parabita, to have my dear ones a bit nearer.

This Christmas if lockdown eases, my husband, daughter and I will share time together with our close friends in Bristol, otherwise we will spend it at home, where we have already agreed to cook the same Christmas menu as my Mum to help me feel even closer to my family in Italy.

Silvia's Pittule

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