A Tuscan Christmas Dinner

A Tuscan Christmas Dinner

Sparkling sunbursts from overhead icicle lights spread a golden glow throughout the chilly pedestrian alleys that lead to Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Shoppers in slim-fitted coats and boots crisscross the stone square with oversized bags from gift and pastry shops in tow. Store windows are elaborately dressed with nativity scenes, or presepi, with handmade figurines of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The mood is set: It’s Christmas in Tuscany.

Unlike New York, Paris or even nearby Rome, Natale in Toscana has its own distinct affair. More than anywhere else, the focus here is to celebrate the holiday season around the dinner table with family and friends. Dishes passed on from generation to generation that bind families to their beautiful Tuscan territory are prepared, beginning December 24, or vigilia di natale, and ending on January 6, when the popular Befana celebration marks the Epiphany.

Wine Enthusiast Magazine gained a special sneak peek into the intimate holiday traditions of four prominent Tuscan wine families: the Antinoris, the Folonaris, the Frescobaldis and the Mazzeis. Each was asked to prepare a dish that represents a classic Tuscan Christmas menu option and pair it with an estate wine.

The Antinori Family

“Christmas in Tuscany embodies essential Renaissance ideals. Rome is already more Baroque with big piazza celebrations and more fanfare overall. The Tuscan personality, on the other hand, never wants to appear over the top; it values restraint, elegance and temperance.” –Allegra Antinori of Marchesi Antinori, a Tuscan wine dynasty that traces its enological roots to 1385.


This delicious dessert is an Antinori family Christmas tradition.

1½ pounds fresh chestnuts, peeled
2 cups of milk
2/3 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon bitter chocolate powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ ounces rum

For the topping:
2 cups fresh whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon bitter chocolate powder
2 tablespoons bitter chocolate, in chips or small cubes
½ cup Marrons glacé, cubed

To prepare the dessert: Using a sharp knife, cut an X into the outer shell of each chesnut, then let boil in hot water for 10 minutes. When boiled, remove the chestnuts and peel off the outer shell. Place peeled chestnuts in a small pot, add the milk, sugar and salt, and let cook for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, mash the mixture into a paste using a large potato ricer. Add the bitter chocolate powder, vanilla extract and rum, and mix until a compact dough is formed. Store in refrigerator for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, run the chestnut dough through a pasta machine set on a spaghetti setting to form chestnut spaghetti. Place a small pile of the chestnut spaghetti in the middle of a large serving platter and cover the sides with the whipped cream (using a pastry bag or sac à poche). Sprinkle the chestnuts with confectioners sugar, bitter chocolate powder, chocolate chips and Marrons glacé. Serves 4.

The Frescobaldis Family

“The season lasts from Christmas Eve to the Befana and we normally travel or go skiing. The Befana is a very exciting time for the kids because tradition says that an old good witch will visit in the night. She leaves small gifts for the children that have behaved well. But if a child has not behaved, he or she receives black coals instead.” –Tiziana Frescobaldi of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, a noble Tuscan family who has been making wine for more than 700 years.

Brasato Natalizio al Nipozzano

The Frescobaldi family’s traditional red wine rib roast dish.

1 beer rib, approximately 5 pounds  (the family recommends the Chianina breed of cattle from Tuscany)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 small carrots, cut into ÂĽ-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ bottle red wine (the family recommends Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva)
2 cups tomato purée
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablesoons water
3 tablespoon flour

Season the roast beef with salt and pepper and place in a large roasting pan over medium heat. Braise the meat, turning it over to brown all sides. In another pan, fry the onion, celery and carrot in olive oil until soft. When soft, add the onion, celery, carrots and wine to the roast beef pan, and lower the heat. Next, add in the tomato purée and tomato paste, stirring the ingredients to make a sauce. Cover the roasting pan and slow cook for two hours. Make sure the meat and sauce do not dry out by adding a few tablespoons of water.

When the meat is very tender, after about 2½ hours, remove and set aside. Keep the sauce in the pan covered. In another saucepan, combine the flour and water, mixing well. When heated, add the flour mixture to the saucepan. Mix well to produce a thick gravy. Slice the beef and a pour gravy on top before serving. Serves 4.

The Folonari Family

“Wine is central to Christmas and Tuscan wine is at the forefront. We start dinner toasting with a glass of delicious Prosecco and continue to our estate’s red wines and Riservas. After the long meal, we enjoy dessert with our traditional Vin Santo del Chianti. The kids always enjoy all the courses as well as a few drops of wine in their full glasses of water. The night continues in front of the fireplace and a good glass of Grappa is always appreciated. When we have had more than one glass, we ask my mom to sing opera from our favorite composer, Puccini, and she is great!” –Adolfo Folonari of Ruffino, the Tuscan wine brand founded in 1877 and recognized around the world.

Vellutata di Zucca Gialla

This scrumptious pumpkin soup is a Folonari family tradition.

1 white onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ Hokkaido pumpkin, cleaned and cut into ½-inch cubes
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
3 cups beef broth
4 Italian amaretti cookies, finely crushed
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
⅛ cup rye bread croutons (To make your own: cut rye bread it into small cubes, submerge it in olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste, then toast in the over for 30 minutes at about 350°F.)
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, roasted and crushed
1 tablespoon pumpkin seed oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium pot, fry the chopped onion in olive oil until transparent. Add the pumpkin and potato (proportion should be roughly 2/3 pumpkin to 1/3 potato), and stir for about 5 minutes before pouring in the beef broth. Cook for 20 minutes.

Using a hand blender, purée the ingredients until a creamy soup is achieved. Sprinkle in the cookies and nutmeg, and blend again. Add salt to taste and additional broth if you prefer a more liquid soup.

Place the croutons and pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Serve the soup in individual bowls, garnished with a drizzle of pumpkin oil, the toasted croutons and pumpkin seeds.  Serves 4.

The Mazzei Family

“We use both a Christmas tree and the presepe. The tree represents a more rational side of the holidays and Babbo Natale (Santa Claus). The presepe represents the religious side and the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Day, we go to mass and then reunite with the whole family, grandparents, children and grandchildren for lunch and an exchange of gifts.” –Francesco Mazzei of Marchesi Mazzei, a historic wine company with properties in Chianti Classico, Maremma and Sicily.

Timballo di Spaghetti alla Chitarra

This guitar string spaghetti cake is tradition at a Mazzei family Christmas dinner.

1 pound spaghetti
4 eggs, whites and yolks separated
10 ounces of prosciutto cotto ham, finely chopped
4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
4 ounces of Parmigiano cheese, grated
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup breadcrumbs
ÂĽ stick butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Boil the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.Whip the egg whites in a bowl until foamy and set aside. In a separate large bowl, combine the spaghetti (still hot), prosciutto, Swiss cheese, Parmigiano and yolks. Mix until well combined. Add the egg whites and the heavy cream and mix until well combined.
Butter the insides of a large Bundt pan, then coat the sides of the pan with the breadcrumbs. Pour in the spaghetti mixture and cook in the pre-heated oven for 15–20 minutes. Serve hot.

To read more about Tuscan traditions, click here.

Published on November 4, 2011
Topics: Holiday EntertainingHoliday RecipesHosting Tips