Are you wondering what a typical Italian New Year’s Eve dinner looks like?
Eating and drinking well is at the centre of any authentic Italian experience – and it’s no different on New Year’s Eve! If you are in Italy on this special night, you may see the word ‘cenone’, which literally means ‘big dinner’ in English. If you see ‘cenone di Capodanno’, this simply translates to ‘big New Year’s Eve dinner’.
Typical dishes to be enjoyed on New Year’s Eve vary from region to region. Generally, dishes in the north contain more meat, while fish is favoured more in the south. There are also dishes and desserts eaten all across Italy and which are also eaten overseas, such as panettone. There are also many options for vegetarians, so no need to be discouraged if you don’t eat meat or fish!
Let’s break down the typical Italian New Year’s Eve dinner into courses!
Depending on where you are, antipasto could be the centrepiece of the dinner. In Piedmont in northern Italy, for instance, it is normal to prepare more than ten different entrees! A common antipasto from this region is vitello tonnato, a cold slice of veal with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce and a hint of tuna flavour. Another antipasto to be found on New Year’s Eve are small slices of bread with salmon (tartine con salmone).
First courses usually consist of lasagne or another type of fresh pasta, a tradition more common to northern Italy. In Piedmont, agnolotti, similar to ravioli and normally filled with different types of meat, is very typical. Of course, these dishes can be changed for vegetarians. Dishes with fish like seafood risotto or spaghetti with clams are also examples of what could be on the menu.
There are several typical second course dishes that appear time and again in Italy on New Year’s Eve. One of these is fried baccalà (dried and salted codfish), usually with a side dish of vegetables, commonly potatoes.
Another great culinary tradition is eating lentils with slices of slow-cooked pork sausage (lenticchie e cotechino). Why? Because, according to the Italians, lentils bring money for the coming year. And if you don’t eat them, you may have bad luck! The pork sausage is sold pre-cooked in many supermarkets. As a vegetarian, you can stick to lentils and you’ll get rich anyway!
In Naples, people often eat an insalata di rinforzo (roughly translated, a ‘power salad’), which contains ingredients such as cauliflower, green olives, pickles and anchovies among other things. Naturally, every family has its own special recipe!
You may already know panettone, a dome-shaped cake of Italian sweet bread with raisins inside. There is also pandoro, different only in that it doesn’t have raisins inside and is coated in vanilla-scented icing sugar. It is also generally a little softer, a little taller and can be stuffed with mascarpone cream – a great tip! In fact, there are several flavours and toppings available for both panettone and pandoro. Many Italians identify themselves as either ‘panettone lovers’ or ‘pandoro lovers’ – which will you be? The only way to find out is to try!
Struffoli, deep-fried balls of dough covered in honey, and mustaccuioli, a traditional biscuit-like pastry covered in chocolate, are often eaten in Naples.
A constant during the festive period – after meals – is a selection of dried fruits, dates, nougat and mandarins. They typically accompany the post-dinner card games played among friends and family over this period and are always to be found in the centre of the table.
You can’t spend New Year’s Eve without having a glass of spumante to toast at midnight. Spumante is Italy’s most famous sparkling wine, produced in several regions in the north. You can find it in every supermarket!
More generally, wine is enjoyed throughout the whole evening. After the meal, to help digest all the food they have eaten, the Italians enjoy what is known as a digestivo or an ammazzacaffè – which literally means ‘coffee killer’. Examples of this could be the lemon-flavoured limoncello or a herbal liqueur such as Amaro del Capo, Amaro Averna or grappa, to name a few.
These are the dishes that are most common in Italian households over New Year’s Eve. The restaurants differ in that they offer set menus that also include drinks within the package. In most cases, if you want to eat out on New Year’s Eve you have to book well in advance to secure a spot. Naturally, the menu varies a little at each restaurant but some things are always eaten, such as panettone, lenticchie e cotechino and sparkling wine at midnight.