Guinea Fowl Stuffed with veal and Chestnuts and the christmas log
 
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I love Tuscany any time of the year, but I always look forward to Christmas just a little more than the other seasons!

Traditionally in Italy, families gather for a Christmas Eve dinner, followed by the opening of the presents. Christmas Eve dinner is often meatless, whilst the Christmas Day lunch includes succulent meats.

The gift giving on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is not so indulgent however, as it is more traditional to give gifts on the 12th day of Christmas, 6th January when La Befana arrives to bring gifts to good children, and coal to the naughty ones!

Therefore, Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) shares his gift-giving role with this old Italian woman who flies on a broomstick from house to house 12 days after Babbo Natale.

Christmas Carols are said to have developed by Saint Francis of Assisi during the 13th Century. His fascination with the baby Jesus led him to write Latin hymns (such as Psalmus in Nativitate) devoted to the Christmas spirit, which in turn inspired his Franciscan monks to compose Italian carols.

These days, Christmas decorations can be seen popping up on streets and in shop windows from approximately mid-November. However, more traditionally they were put out as part of the celebrations for 8th December, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Whilst Christmas trees are becoming more and more popular, it is the nativity scene that is still extremely popular in Italy. Almost every church has a  presepe, and the good ones even draw in crowds. Some can also be found in Piazzas and other such public areas.

Small towns will also hold a bonfire on Christmas eve, but this tradition is not often seen in the more metropolitan areas.

Christmas in Florence last year meant dinner with the family - a heavy and delicious meal of soups, pasta, stews, and fantastic desserts. After dinner, we all stood up from the table, with some difficulty after the extensive meal, to go for a walk through the brilliantly lit streets. 

There were still some stores open, some with people sharing a glass of prosecco with their customers (who are inevitably friends or family in these small Italian towns!) and totally disinterested in actually selling anything!

It is somewhat surprising to see so many people out on the streets on the afternoon of Christmas. But in fact, Christmas afternoon is usually when people will see friends, go for a walk after a big lunch, or in some areas, it is even popular go to the cinema!

And of course, in the country that gives home to the Vatican, there are also many who attend mass.

Many people were heading to the various churches that are scattered throughout Florence, and as we passed each church, we were serenaded by the angelic choir voices of carol singers enticing us in with their siren sounds. Resisting, we walked on and on, through crowded piazzas despite the cold, passing the Santa Maria Novella church with its outdoor Nativity Scene.

We continued past, going on until we were at our destination, the house of Tiziano and Elena. We had bought them a traditional Italian Christmas gift of Paneforte and a bottle of sweet Prosecco.

The panforte we had purchased from the famous Santa Croce Christmas markets where there is a wonderful mix of stalls selling traditional Italian fare and international Christmas items. Each year, it is lovely to walk through the crowds of people, all relaxed and smiling. When your hands get cold, it is a great excuse to grab a cup of the deliciously spiced and hot mulled wine from the stand near the church steps.

 

 
 

Santa Croce Christmas Market

 
 

This fair takes place in the lead up to Christmas, throughout the first two weeks of December. Opening at 10am through to 10pm, it is a great place to find some interesting Christmas treasures from gifts, through to delicious food items.

Traditionally it has been known as Il Mercato di Natale di Weihnachtsmarkt, a German Christmas Market started by the last living Medici family member who married into German royalty.

These days, stalls are run by people hailing from 10 different countries throughout Europe - Italy, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Hungry, and since 2007, Bulgaria e Czech Republic.

During the day, the people wandering through the stalls are from even more diverse countries than the stall holders themselves, and by night, it becomes a great meeting point for locals to come and have an international dinner (like a Wurstel and Sauerkraut) and to just hang out.

 

 
  Traditional Tuscan Christmas Dessert Recipe from Siena  
 

Panforte di Siena , like Panetone from Milan or the Pandoro from Verona, is a traditional Christmas cake which, as its name implies, hails from Siena. The various types can in general, can be filled with candied fruits or rinds, raisins, nuts or chocolate or it is delicious even plain.

 
     
 

Panforte di Siena

 
 
  • 180g plain flour
  • 300g caster sugar 
  • 14 wafers or circles of rice paper
  • 3g mixed spice
  • 1/5g coriander
  • 4g cinnamon
  • 120g chopped walnuts 
  • 200g almonds
  • 250g candied black melon seeds
  • 40g candied orange rind
  • white flour and cinnamon to sprinkle
 
 


After blanching the almonds and walnuts in boiling water, peel them then place them in a hot oven to toast. Remove the skins then finely chop. Similarly chop the candied fruits, then add to the chopped nuts along with the spices (including the coriander and cinnamon). Add 150g before mixing well. In a heavy-bottomed pan, place the sugar on a low heat until it starts to melt. When you pinch the sugar, it should be pliable and is ready to be removed from the heat. Now add the fruit and nut mixture to the sugar, using your hands to mix well.

 
 


Line a baking tin with the waters (or rice paper). Flour your hands then take the mixture and form it into a 2cm disc which will be placed over the wafers. Sprinkle a mix of 10g of plain flour and 3g of cinnamon over the top before placing in a 150 degree Celsius oven for 30 minutes. Place the cake on an airing tray, trim the edges and serve. To store, keep the Panforte in a cool place and it will last a long time - if you can resist eating it all at once!