Vigilia di Natale a Napoli
Naples - Campania
Preparation - Medium Easy
In Naples the big Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. For religious reasons, this traditional dinner is meatless (not even meat broth is allowed) but substantial. It is the most important family holiday. We have a saying in Italy that you may spend Easter with whomever you please, but Christmas must be spent with the family.
Christmas trees are not traditional for Neapolitans. Instead, a creche (called a presepio) showing the scene of the Nativity is prepared after dinner. The figures that go into the creche are often antique and beautifully sculpted. Old ones are rare but in Naples beautiful new ones are still made by a few artisan sculptors.
After the Nativity creche has been assembled, zampognari, shepherds from the mountains of Abruzzi, often come to play Christmas music on their bagpipes. The men, who during the Christmas season wander all over Italy, playing in the streets or at private houses, are colorfully dressed in felt hats, sheepskin vests, and leggings that lace up their legs. Their bagpipes are oddly comic, with sheeps' feet hanging down from them. At midnight on Christmas Eve, following the departure of the zampognari, the entire family, including babies and grandparents, attends the candlelit midnight mass.
With the dinner which follows, Neapolitans often drink a white wine from the island of Ischia, Biancolello Casa d'Ambra. The production is extremely limited-usually only enough for Naples-so it is hard to find elsewhere. For substitutions we suggest Lacryma Cristi del Vesuvio Bianco, Capri Bianco, or Greco di Tufo
CAULIFLOWER, OLIVE AND CAPER SALAD - Insalata di rinforzo
CLAMS IN WHITE SAUCE - Spaghetti alle vongole in bianco
SALT COD WITH SPICY TOMATO SAUCE - Baccala alla Napoletana
ROASTED PEPPERS - Peperoni arrosto
CHRISTMAS CHEESECAKE - Crostata di ricotta
Italian Cooking in the Grand Tradition
Jo Bettoja and Anna Maria Cornetto
The Dial Press