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How The Italians Make Christmas Dinner

An Italian Christmas dinner is a celebration of tradition, beautiful decorations and, of course, the very best food. Even though the day draws ever closer, there is still time for a little Italian inspiration for your festive feasting…

italian christmas dinner

The dinner table setting for such an event is key. So, keep the colours a traditional green, white and red – whilst adding in accents of gold for that extra flourish. Delicate glassware and candles elevate the look for the day’s celebrations, creating the perfect ambience for the most elaborate of feasts. Overall it should feel warm, inviting and, of course, just a little decadent.

Italian christmas dinner


The Fish Pie


Fish pie is a classic for Christmas Eve, with seafood a necessity rather than meat for this sacred night. It is a family-favourite dish that will be a crowd-pleaser come Christmas Eve, and its simplicity over these busy couple of days will be a gift in itself.


Preparation time: 1 hour, plus setting

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4 – 6


  • 1kg floury potatoes
  • 500ml fish stock
  • 2 tbsp dry vermouth
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
  • 250g white fish fillets, such as cod or haddock, skinned and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 175g salmon fillet, skinned and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 175g smoked fish fillet, skinned and cut into 3cm chunks
  • 150g peeled raw prawns (optional)
  • 2 tbsp chopped mixed herbs, such as parsley, dill and chives
  • A little milk
  • 20g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 20g grated Parmesan
  • 30g butter



  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 175ml double cream
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp anchovy essence
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper

1. Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C or gas mark 4.

2. Simply boil the potatoes, in their skins, for about 20 minutes or until tender. These should then be drained and left to cool slightly.

3. Whilst the potatoes are on the boil, bring the stock and vermouth to the boil in another large pan. Then add the onion and fennel before cooking gently for 8 minutes. Now it is time for the fish and prawns, to poach gently for 2 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid, and leave to cool.

4. To make the sauce: start by melting the butter in a heavy-based pan on a low heat, stir in the flour and cook this gently for a minute. The reserved fish cooking liquid should then be gradually added, stirring till it has all been incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Bring it to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Simmer for another 10 minutes (or until thick) after adding the cream. Finally stir in the mustard, and anchovy essence, and season with white pepper. Leave to cool for 15 minutes.

5. Fold in the fish, prawns, fennel and onion into the sauce with the herbs. This can then be spooned into a large pie dish, or several individual ones, filling to approximately 3cm below the top. Leave your pie(s) to set for 30 minutes.

6. For the mash topping: peel the potatoes and mash them with butter and just enough milk for a soft consistency – finish this by seasoning. Pipe on to the fish mixture or spread with a spatula.

7. Bake your pie for 20 minutes (slightly less for individual pies). Finish by scattering breadcrumbs and parmesan and the bake again for another 10-15 minutes. Serve piping hot.

italian christmas dinner


Spinach and Ricotta Tortellini

Begin your feast with an Italian necessity for Christmas day – a stuffed pasta. Whether it be stuffed with meat or an alternative, the pasta should be thin and the main attraction on the plate. This spinach and ricotta tortellini is the ideal starter which is light but heart-warming.


Preparation time:1 hour 30 minutes + resting

Cooking time:5 minutes

Serves: 4



For the pasta dough: 200g ‘00’ grade pasta flour, plus extra for dusting
2 medium eggs
1 medium egg yolk
For the spinach & ricotta filling:
200g spinach, cooked, excess moisture removed and finely chopped
100g ricotta
30g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
1 medium egg yolk
Fresh nutmeg, grated

1. To start, place the pasta flour in a food processor. With the blade running, add the whole eggs and egg yolk at once, blending until it just comes together. The texture needs to resemble coarse breadcrumbs.

2. Remove the mix from the processor, and bring together by hand. This then requires kneading for 5 minutes or until you have a smooth, slightly soft, but not sticky. dough. Wrap your dough in clingfilm and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, for the filling: mix the spinach, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano and egg yolk together in a bowl until well combined. Season this to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

4. Once to dough has rested, roll it out using a pasta machine until wafer-thin and silky. Lay the sheet on a well-floured surface and use a 9cm round cutter to cut out discs of pasta. Use up all of the pasta sheet.

5. Next, brush one of the pasta discs lightly with a little cold water to just dampen. Place a scant teaspoon of the spinach and ricotta mixture on one half of the disc so that the pasta can be folded over the filling to create a semi-circular parcel. To seal and remove any air bubbles, press firmly along the edges. Dampen the two points of the parcel and them bring together, securing firmly. Repeat with the remaining filling and pasta discs. Before cooking, allow the tortellini to rest in the fridge for 5 minutes.

6. Finally, cook the tortellini in plenty of boiling, salted water for 3-4 minutes or until they have risen to the surface. Drain well and serve immediately.

italian christmas dinner

Leg Of Lamb With Crispy Italian Crust


Turkey is not a prevalent as it is here in the UK for the Christmas day feast, so other meats can step into the limelight. This leg of lamb, with its crispy Italian crust, is the perfect dish for the family to gather around for the celebrations. It also makes an ideal centrepiece on the stunningly-set table.


Preparation time:20 minutes

Cooking time:2 hours 30 minutes

Serves: 6


2kg whole leg of lamb
3 slices Parma ham
3 sprigs rosemary, broken up into smaller sprigs
2 tbsp olive oil
75g fresh breadcrumbs
50g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
Finely grated zest 1 lemon
300ml white wine
1kg Charlotte new potatoes, halved if large
500g Chantenay carrots
25g pack flat leaf parsley, finely chopped



1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Then, using a sharp knife, make lots of incisions all over the lamb. Into these, insert the Parma ham, which has been cut into strips, and the rosemary sprigs, using the tip of a knife.

2. Next, rub the olive oil all over the lamb, season, and place in a large roasting tin. For the crust: mix the breadcrumbs, cheese and lemon zest together, and press all over the lamb. Make sure that you pack it down well with your hands until the top is completely coated.

3. Pour the wine into the bottom of the tin, before carefully placing it into the middle of the oven and roast for 1 hour. After this time, remove the lamb. Add the potatoes and carrots to the tin, and season. Ensure that this is tossed well, then place the lamb back on top, covering just the meat with foil. Return the tin to the oven for a further 1 hour.

4. At the end of that time, remove the foil and return the tin to the oven for a further 30 minutes, or until the crumb coating is crunchy and golden, and the vegetables are tender. Leave everything to rest for 10-15 minutes, and then finally sprinkle with the parsley and toss the vegetables in any cooking juices. Carve the lamb for serving.

Mini Panettone

Panettone is a Christmas dessert which has travelled to the UK to become a beloved favourite here too. Originally attributed to Milan in the middle ages this is a soft, fragrant bread which has stood the test of time. The individual twist means that these Panettones would be the perfect climatic finish to Christmas dinner or would work well as thoughtful, handmade gifts.


Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus macerating, cooling and proving

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Makes: 12

italian christmas dinner


75g raisins
3 tbsp brandy or dark rum
75g candied mixed peel
75g glacé cherries, halved  or quartered
1 lemon, zest
1 orange, zest
450g strong white bread flour,  plus extra for dusting
50g Waitrose Golden Caster Sugar
½ tsp fine salt
7g sachet easy bake yeast
1 large egg, beaten
2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp clear honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
75g unsalted butter, softened,  plus extra for greasing
125ml whole milk, plus 1 tbsp extra
Icing sugar, for dusting



1. To begin, into a small pan, put the raisins and the brandy or rum; set over a low heat. Warm this, without allowing it to boil, then remove from the heat and add the mixed peel, glacé cherries and lemon and orange zests. Set aside for 20 minutes to plump up, before starting with the dough.

2. For the dough: mix the flour in a large bowl with the caster sugar, salt and yeast until combined (a freestanding mixer, with a dough hook, can be used if preferred). Then, make a well in the centre of the dough for the whole egg, 1 egg yolk, the honey, vanilla and softened butter. Gently warm 125ml of milk, until just before boiling, and pour into the bowl, mixing with a wooden spoon until combined.

3. Knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface, as little flour as possible is best, for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Once achieved, knead in the soaked dried fruit and any excess liquid until thoroughly combined. Then return the dough to the bowl and cover with cling film. This should then be set aside in a warm, draught-free place for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size. Meanwhile, grease a deep 12-hole muffin tin with butter.

4. Next, scoop the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and lightly knead again for 1 minute. The dough needs to then be divided into 12 even-sized pieces, which should be shaped into neat balls – place these into the moulds of the prepared tin, smooth-side up. Finally, loosely cover with greased cling film and leave to rise for about 1 hour, until really well risen and doubled in size again.

4. Preheat the oven to 170˚C, gas mark 3. For the egg wash, beat the remaining egg yolk with the 1 tbsp milk and gently brush this over the top of each panettone. Leave them to rise for another 10-15 minutes.

5. Lastly, bake your panettone in the bottom third of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until well risen and deep golden. If the tops start to brown too quickly, then turn the oven down slightly (or cover with foil) for the final 5 minutes of cooking. Before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool, leave in the tin for 2 minute. For the final flourish, dust with icing sugar.

Side note: These are best eaten on the day of baking or can be gently reheated in the oven the following day.

italian christmas dinner




Whilst a limoncello is to be enjoyed on a balmy summer evening, a clemencello is for Christmas Day. Bottled it can make a wonderful gift, but the most enjoyment will come from its being sipped at the end of the day’s feast. This clementine-based drink will be the perfect piquant finish to an Italian Christmas dinner.


Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus infusing and cooling

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: 1 ½ litres


16 clementines, unpeeled
1 litre vodka
2 vanilla pods
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
10 cardamom pods
2 cloves (optional)
300g caster sugar



1. Start by washing the clementines and cutting them each into eight. Remove the flesh from each piece (this can be set aside to eat at a later time). Then, using a sharp knife, carefully trim away the white pith from the peel.

2. Take the peel and put it into a new, large sterilised jar with the vodka and spices. Leave this to infuse for 5 days.


3. After 5 days have passed, put the sugar in a pan with 300ml cold water. Melt the sugar over a low heat,  then bring to the boil and bubble until you have a light syrup. To test if it is ready, take a teaspoonful, put it in cold water and then rub it between your fingers – it should feel like Vaseline.

Side note: Make sure the sugar syrup is left to cool completely because if it is added whilst warm, the clemencello will go cloudy. (Alternatively, you can use 300ml Monin pure cane sugar syrup.)

4. To finish, strain the vodka and add the sugar syrup.

For gifting: Pour the finished drink into new sterilised bottles and decorate for gifts. You can even add a few spices to each bottle if you like.

Note: This is best drunk within 3 months.

All recipes from Waitrose

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