Christmas food in Parma is a matter of tradition and it plays a prominent role in the way we celebrate. Each family treasures its own special version of traditional recipes which give Christmas its distinctive taste.
In Parma on Christmas Eve locals usually do not have meat for dinner and one of the most popular dishes is tortelli di zucca or pumpkin tortelli: thin squares of pasta made with flour and eggs, filled with pumpkin, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and further ingredients which may be breadcrumbs, Amaretti cookies or sour jam (cherry or plum) – like in my mother-in-law’s version.
The last ingredient is the one which gives each recipe a unique flavour and in the past tortelli di zucca were only home-made, never bought. They are served with melted butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
On Christmas Day however, meat triumphs with cappelletti (or anolini), a richer variety of stuffed pasta with a filling of beef stew, eggs, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, breadcrumbs and nutmeg. Cappelletti are cooked in broth, so they are usually followed by boiled meat (lesso) served with tasty sauces made with vegetables (garlic, tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery), parsley, oil and vinegar.
Preparing cappelletti takes a long time and family members join in the process: rolling out the dough, measuring out the filling, cutting or shaping the single anolino.
Spongata, a rich Christmas cake, crowns festive winter meals in our region. Two layers of thin, crisp pastry, dusted with icing sugar, encase a rich mixture of honey, toasted breadcrumbs, raisins, candied cedar, a touch of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, ground walnuts and pine nuts … The filling is prepared well in advance, sometimes at the beginning of November, so that the flavours of the different ingredients can blend.
Then the cake is made and baked before Christmas and it keeps for some time (if you can resist temptation, that is). You can find mass-produced spongata on sale all year round, but as the traditional cake has always been home-made, each family or pastry shop has its own recipe – and the exact amount of each ingredient is often kept a secret.
You can read more about spongata history and origins, in a very interesting post on the subject.