We all have a favourite Christmas dish: my colleague Sadie, for example, is a firm believer in a healthy pigs-in-blankets-to-dinner-guest ratio, whereas others in the office are more partial to a candy cane or perhaps an all-butter mince pie.
Those of our colleagues who grew up outside the UK each have their own favourite festive food, as they tell us here:
Cartellate: forget panettone, the best Italian Christmas dessert is cartellate. My mum is the queen of these honey-soaked, deep-fried pastry wheels, which have their origins in Puglia – the southerly region of Italy where I grew up. One thing I really like about them – apart from their taste, of course – is that the dough is made using two of our regional specialities, white wine and olive oil.
Sweet 6th: one thing the Swiss like to do before Christmas is bake biscuits – our favourites are the lemon-flavoured Mailänderli, which are the most baked biscuits in Switzerland, but we also love Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) and Spitzbuben (jam-filled cookies). Traditionally, we start on 6th December which is St Nicholas Day (the patron saint of Switzerland). Everybody bakes so much that we hand biscuits out to all our friends and families and they in turn hand biscuits to us. St Nicholas, who is called Samichlaus in Swiss German, usually comes to our towns with a horse and Schmutzli (his sinister sidekick) and hands out gifts to the children.
A decadent French Christmas: rather than any one dish, what I love about a French Christmas is the abundance of food. We have a big meal on Christmas Eve in the evening, usually with a massive sea food platter including oysters and other cold shellfish. There’s smoked salmon and foie gras, lumpfish roe on toast, and an ice-cream log.
Then we do it all over again on Christmas Day, but with a heavier meal still, including snails (of course), the famous foie gras, as well as other cold meats such as mortadelle. This is followed by a big roast of game or other meat accompanied by chestnuts, pommes duchesse (a type of potato that I always associate with Christmas), and green beans wrapped in a sort of bacon.
Next up is a massive cheese platter, which in my family we love to cover with mini Christmas decorations. We decorate the Comté with pine trees to create a forest, add a snowman to the brie, and I love putting a Santa on a sledge coming down the slice of Roquefort. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a tacky Christmassy cheese platter!
Beatriz Chanfreut Pelaez
Turrones: this nutty, nougat-like confection is popular across much of southern Europe, but especially with the Spanish! It is usually made from almonds, honey, sugar and egg white, and though these base ingredients tend to stay the same, there are actually many different varieties to try, especially at Christmas time! In fact, turrón isn’t something we would buy during the rest of the year – we stock up in December, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Fabled fish: we often spend Christmas with my wife’s family in Poland, where the main day of celebration is Christmas Eve. On this day, no meat is eaten and the main meal consists of fish – usually carp. You catch or buy it live and traditionally it’s then kept in the bath tub for the few days before Christmas, in part to get all the silt out of its gills… I was expecting to see this tradition in action the first time I visited Poland at Christmas, but I’m sorry to say it didn’t happen then and I’ve never seen it since – they may be pulling my leg.
I don’t eat fish so I make the most of the starter, kluski śląskie: little gnocchi-like potato dumplings that are covered in gravy – a ‘filler’ that performs the same function as Yorkshire Puddings. Then I just eat all the veg for mains.
On Christmas Day the meat restriction is lifted! To start we have pierogi, which are another type of dumpling that look like large tortellini, and they can contain all sorts of different fillings, usually pickled cabbage and mushroom, and they’re served with a cup of barszcz czerwony (beetroot soup). I have been entrusted with making these by my mother-in-law! Then we usually have pork for mains, either breaded (like a schnitzel) or rolled and stuffed with pickled cucumbers and cheese, or minced and made into meatballs. Plus any left-over fish from the day before. And this is all served with mashed potato, roast carrots and parsnips, and cabbage. They grow potatoes on their farm and I am amazed how much colour and flavour they have compared to what we get in the supermarkets.
Oh, and don’t bother faffing around with pairing wines to any of this, it’s neat vodka all the way!
Galets: for me, soup made with galets is the typical Christmas Day dish. Galets are snail-shell-shaped pasta shells that are said to have been invented as a smaller alternative to macaroni – one that can be scooped up easily with a spoon. Galets also come in larger sizes, and we typically use these at Christmas as you can then stuff them with a minced meat mixture – delicious! This isn’t just my opinion, by the way, Catalans have been eating sopa de galets for over 600 years…
Canelons: in the 19th century, there were a number of Italian chefs working for the Catalan bourgeoisie, and they introduced the region to canelons. Unlike their ancestor, cannelloni, these are usually made with roast meat (rather than minced meat or sausage) and the pasta is on the soft side of al dente. Preparing canelons is actually quite an involved process, so we tend to save them for special occasions – such as Boxing Day. There is a theory that this stems from a time when families used to make canelons from their Christmas leftovers, but nowadays fillings vary – expect seafood, vegetables and mushrooms.