As the days become shorter and the nights grow colder, we find ourselves longing for the comfort of warm, indulgent meals, inevitably to tie us over until the natural glow of summer sunshine arrives once again. In Italy, every region meets the changing of the seasons in different ways, each cuisine reflecting the characteristics and flavours of the local environment. Festivity however, irrespective of the region concerned, brings all Italians together, most importantly, in order to feast around a well laden table. In the spirit of this festive feasting, we’ve compiled our own list of dishes to get you in that winter-warming mood. With quick, hearty, fancier, and sweet options to choose from, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
If you need some assistance on making the pasta in these recipes, our luxury pasta makings kits are here to lend a helping hand. Or, if you’re a pasta pro already and simply want more dinner inspiration, we have over 80 recipes to choose from in our ‘Perfect Pasta at Home’ cookbook. Andiamo, let’s get started.
Our Guide to Italian Antipasti
Antipasti or antipasto? This sort of semantic confusion can put a real spanner in the works when you’re trying to host the perfect Italian festive dinner party. And when you’ve worked out what to say - we recommend using antipasti when referring to a whole selection of foods but sticking to antipasto if talking about a singular dish - then you’ve got to choose what to serve. Italians love to serve antipasti as part of the festivities so we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide of everything you might want to include.
The Perfect Italian Cheese Board
As the holidays approach we move, once again, into the season of feasting and everyone knows that no feast is complete without a cheese board. We’ve made it our mission to help you put together a platter of Italian cheeses that will truly wow this year, and helping you to stand out from the crowd because, lets face it, we’ve all eaten enough Brie and baked Camembert to last a lifetime.
Cacio e Pepe Pasta (cheese and pepper pasta)
An iconic dish of the ‘Eternal City’ Roma, cacio e pepe or pasta de pepe simply translates to cheese and pepper pasta. While this dish is definitely not as well known as other Roman classics like Spaghetti alla Carbonara, it is cheesy indulgence at its finest. Cacio e pepe proves you don’t need a long list of elaborate ingredients to create a hearty sauce that is both full of flavour and exceedingly luxuriant.
Wild boar, or cinghiale, is an animal synonymous with the Tuscan countryside, causing mischief in the local vineyards scattered around the coastal region of Maremma. Eaten and revered in equal measure, Tuscans adore this rich meat - so much so, one of the region’s most iconic dishes, pici ai cinghiale, showcases tender wild boar. Our hearty ragù sees the wild boar slowly simmered in a traditional bath of red wine, fragrant juniper berries and tomato, until the meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender. We layer this sauce between fresh lasagne sheets and creamy besciamella sauce, for a luxuriant twist on the classic Roman dish, perfect for a cosy and indulgent dinner.
Lentils are one of the world’s oldest known crops, harking back as far as 13,000 BC, cultivated in early civilisations in India, Egypt, Greece, and - of course - Italy. During Roman times, it was common practice to consume a lentil stew now known as lenticchie a capodanno at the dawn of a new year (the dish literally translates to "Lentils on New Year's Eve”). Romans would also gift a small bag of the pulses to loved ones, as a gesture of good fortune, as their shape was said to symbolise money. And it would seem this well-documented fondness for the legume is a love in perpetuity - to this day, lentils remain a true staple in Italian cuisine - natives enjoy these earthy pulses in soups and stews year-round. Rich in protein, lentils are also a great alternative to meat, the versatile legume being a perfect vegan substitute in sumptuous ragùs that traditionally feature minced or shredded meat. And this vegan ragù is once such instance. Here, robust lentils are slowly stewed with classic Italian flavours such as tomato, basil, garlic and white wine. Fresh chilli does well to add a piquant kick, while rosemary lends an earthy flavour to complement this comforting vegan lentil ragù.
Rigatoni with a Creamy Sicilian Sausage and Fennel Sauce
You know you have landed in Sicily when you catch the anise-like fragrance of wild fennel drifting in the summer breeze. Indigenous to Sicily, the herb adorns the island. You will find its feathery green fronds snaking along roadsides dotted with almond trees, agaves and prickly cactus, or hiding in the bushes that cover the island’s Mediterranean shrubland. Inspired by Chef Roberta’s memories of the island, this sausage ragù recipe is prepared in true Sicilian tradition. Stewed slowly, the savoury flavour of the sausage is enhanced by the addition of wild fennel and sea salt, creating a hearty sauce, perfect for slow winter evenings spent sheltering by the fireplace.
Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts
Andare a funghi - or ‘gathering wild mushrooms’ in English - is a cherished tradition, enabled by the favourable growing conditions of the Italian landscape. The Alps and Apennine mountains nurture even the most revered of mushrooms, like the cherished porcini or spicy galetti. By late-Autumn, as the funghi burgeons, Italian natives flock to the woodland hunting grounds once favoured by their ancestors, keen to satiate their hunger for the precious, earthy gems. These wonderful wild mushrooms are complemented by a butter made using black truffle, foraged in the region of Umbira. Married with the earthy, umami flavours of the wild mushroom, the truffle butter lends both an enticing gloss and an exceptional and distinct aroma. Finishing this dish with a scattering of gently toasted hazelnuts offers a nicely textured bite, but also a little hint of those earthy, festive flavours.
Simple yet decadent, carbonara is a true Roman classic. In true Pasta Evangelists style, we’ve elevated the dish, straying slightly - albeit unapologetically - from tradition, presenting our gloriously creamy version of its non-vegan counterpart. Our vegan carbonara recipe blends the rich umami filled flavour mushrooms with freshly ground black pepper and nutritional yeast for a cheesy finish. Throw in a helping of cashew cream and you encounter a devilishly indulgent dish.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
Gnocchi source their name from the Italian nocchio, meaning 'knot in wood'. While gnocchi have been a staple in Italy since Ancient Roman times, they have evolved somewhat from their original iteration into the distinctive pillowy potato morsels we know and love today. With this spirit of change in mind, we present a comforting twist on the classic gnocchi, substituting sweet potatoes for their regular counterpart. Lending an enticing orange hue and - as name would suggest - sweet flavour to the gnocchi, the sweet potato is a perfect ingredient to amp up this classic dish. Paired with a delicious burro di salvia (sage butter), this earthy and comforting meal proves to be a delicious twist on the Italian staple, perfect for a simple yet impressive midweek dinner. Be sure to finish with a hefty sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano - as ever, the perfect compliment to any pasta dish (perhaps apart from those with seafood).
“Tagliatelle al Cacao” - Chocolate Tagliatelle
While this combination may not be a readily obvious one, rest assured that it is not only delicious, but equally a great chocolatey alternative to the amount of cake one is bound to consume over the festive period. This dish isn’t simply an appeal to those with a sweet tooth however; it is in fact the cocoa powder which imbues it with a delicate bitterness. This pasta can be enjoyed on its own, adorned simply with a generous heap of melted butter or, as per Chef Roberta’s suggestion, with a serving of our earthy walnut pesto.
Combining creamy mascarpone cheese, delicious coffee and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, this decadent dolce is sure to make you feel merry on a cold winter evening. Follow our foolproof recipe or watch the video below to be whisked away to the moonlit canals of Venice with this indulgent tiramisù.
A Decadent Affogato (possibly our favourite coffee concoction)
This divine dolce is the perfect way to round off a meal and can be whipped up en masse to wow guests at an Italian dinner party. The name affogato comes from the Italian word for ‘drowned’, describing the way the ice cream is drenched by the coffee.
Yes, we like to keep our focus mainly on pasta and other little Italian bites, but it feels amiss not to mention a few winter warming drinks while we’re in the festive spirit. Check out our Italian festive drinks guide for 6 wine and cocktail recipes, ideal for perfecting in advance of that family Christmas party. Also take a look at our wine pairing wheel for perfect pasta pairing inspiration.
Should you need any more festive inspiration, check out our Christmas hub for recipes and more!
At Pasta Evangelists, we bring a taste of Italy to your kitchen. Prepared using the freshest ingredients, our gourmet pasta dishes are perfect for those looking to enjoy restaurant-quality meals, delivered to your door, and ready in under five minutes. Order from our weekly menu today, and we’ll offer you 25% off your first delivery - simply enter the code BLOG25 at checkout.