What do Italians eat for Xmas?
More specifically, it depends on the region. Here in Rome, the favored dish is Abbacchio alla Romana, a leg of lamb roasted in the oven with potatoes. In Bologna, it's a heaping plate of tortellini. In Naples, it would be capitone, or yellow eel (pictured opposite), served in a red sauce in a very lengthy dish. (I've never eaten capitone, but I believe the trick is to wait until it gets confused, trapping itself in a corner of the dining room. Then, everybody stabs at it with their tridents... Don't have a trident? Try a sturdy frying pan. Aim for the head.)
This year, we're having natale in Rome. We've decided to play around with the menu for the marathon of eating that begins some time tomorrow. First up, is a zuppa di pesce (fish stew) for the night of the 24th. The stew will include palombo (dog fish), calamari, prawns, triglia (red mullet) and sgombro (mackerel) in a tomato sauce.
For Christmas dinner, we are having a Perugian delicacy: roasted pigeon! And, for the 26th, roasted pheasant. Non vedo l'ora, as the Italians say. (Can't wait!) Meanwhile, the house is already filling up with Umbrian specialties - prosciutto and a type of soft pecorino cheese from Foligno, which we've greedily devoured, home-made cappelletti (to be served in brodo, a favorite of Francesca) and a mountain of cakes, pastries and biscuits.
Perugia is famous for its sweets. Chocolate, to be precise. But they have a fine tradition of biscuits and cakes too. For Christmas, they serve serpente, an almond sweet pastry shaped like a coiled snake. I'm looking at one sitting on my table.