Family is, without a doubt, Italy’s most important value, and celebrations, especially Italian Christmas traditions, do much to emphasize that bond. Some of my warmest childhood memories are of our Christmas Eve parties when the whole family would celebrate the holiday together with an evening of food, gift exchange, singing, and games. I’ve always thought how lucky I am to have grown up the grandchild of Italian immigrants who taught my cousins and me to love the food, the culture, and the traditions. Two of my favorite traditional foods are wedding soup and pizzelles.
Italian Wedding soup is a traditional classic Italian soup made with a rich broth, vegetables, and tiny meatballs. There are many versions of this soup, but for me, the recipe my mother makes is the very best. It’s so rich and bursting with Italian flavors. While my mom is the one who makes the wedding soup, the recipe is actually the traditional recipe of my father’s family.
Despite the name, Italian wedding soup isn’t actually served at Italian weddings. Supposedly the name comes from the Italian “minestra maritata”, which maybe should be translated as “marriage soup” because it was meant to describe the combination of vegetables and protein in this classic recipe. Italian wedding soup is a delicious broth soup filled with meatballs and spinach. It is a fantastic soup that is loaded with flavor and texture in every bite. The marriage isn’t a marriage between two people, but instead it’s a marriage between vegetables and meat.
Next, dating back hundreds of years in Italian culture, no Italian celebration or wedding is complete without the famous pizzelle! My mother makes these light, crispy Italian waffle cookies for us throughout the month of December. She also sends them to friends and family who don’t live here. The pizzelle is a traditional favorite around Christmas time, and you’re likely to see them piled high on the sweets table of an Italian wedding.
‘Pizze’ comes from the Italian word for ‘round’ and ‘flat’ (that’s right, just like the word pizza), and the ending ‘elle’ means small. These popular, small, round cookies are made from a simple batter of sugar, eggs, flour, butter or oil, and flavoring. Although anise (black licorice) is the “traditional” flavor of the pizzelle, modern options include vanilla, peppermint, anisette, lemon, and chocolate, but there are countless recipes and flavor combinations for this humble Italian cookie.
Classic pizzelle cookies are a traditional Italian cookie that is perfect for Christmas time. They are thin, crisp, buttery, and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar for sweetness. Pizzelles are made using iron plates, either the modern, electric version used the same way you’d use a waffle iron, or you can opt for the traditional cast metal plates, the type used centuries ago.
My family is one of the reasons I love the holiday season so much. We reunite, eat our favorite foods, and have tons of silly traditions. However, as my siblings and I have gotten older, and no longer all live close to our other family members, we all seem so busy and stressed this time of year. It’s getting harder and harder to keep traditions alive. But the relationship between Italians, family, and food is a great love affair. And while any occasion is an excuse to spend time together, it's a must to get together with family and friends to celebrate Christmas. This year things might look a little different because of the pandemic, but rest assured that we’ll find a way to share the holiday together! Merry Christmas from all of us at Bellisari’s!