Italians are renowned for their love of feasting, and Natale – or Christmas – is no exception. Across the country, home cooks roll up their sleeves, ready to showcase their culinary prowess across several nights of dining with family and friends.

Here in the UK, it’s rare that we stray from carved turkey and sprouts. But in Italy, the festive menu is more fluid and more changeable: from region to region, and from night to night, different dishes and cooking styles come to the forefront of Italian homes.

My favourite tradition is the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve. It’s a Roman Catholic custom to abstain from meat before the big day, so Italians put the focus on fish and seafood, instead. In Rome, it’s traditional to have Baccala – salted cod – fried in a light batter, while the Tuscans serve it in a simmering garlic and tomato sauce.

If you head down towards the seas of Southern Italy, expect to find steaming bowls of spaghetti with mussels or clams. Not only eaten during the summer, this flavoursome dish is either enjoyed with tomato sauce or simply in white wine and garlic.

In Naples, the ‘capitone’ – the female eel, is eaten roasted or baked on Christmas Eve and the origin of this tradition is due to ancient superstition. Due to it resembling a snake, a symbol of evil (the snake tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple), it is believed to be a symbolic act that brings good luck.

We tend to think of Christmas as a time of overindulgence and tight waistbands. But the Italians have proven that there is more to feasting than carved meat and heavy carbs. So, opt for something different this December – not only will it jazz up the festive table, but you’ll be doubly thankful come January.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.

Paola Maggiulli, a British foodie and passionate cook with Italian roots, has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all Italian food; pasta, pizza, gelato, you name it. On her blog, The Tiny Italian, she shares her delicious recipes with the world.

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