The Italians will be offering luxurious Christmas hampers to suit all budgets and tastes from the end of November – and you can also put together your own personal selection of fine foods and wine
In Italy, the festive season traditionally begins on 8 December, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception. A public holiday, this is when families put up their Christmas decorations and Nativity crib scenes (presepi) appear in churches, shop windows and piazzas all over the country.
Inevitably, according to Massimo Lopez, Manager of the Italians deli and café on the High Road, once the countdown to Christmas has been triggered thoughts – and tastebuds – turn to culinary indulgence.
‘Sitting down at the table to eat and drink with friends and family is a hugely important part of our celebrations,’ he says. ‘And, I’ve got to admit, it does seem to carry on for a very long time!’
According to custom, Italians eat lightly on Christmas Eve (La Vigilia) in anticipation of the extravagant feasting to come. That usually means no meat; rather, it’s fish, vegetables and simple pasta. The main Christmas dinner itself varies from region to region but, as a rule, it’s mostly meat in northern Italy and seafood in the south; one thing’s certain, it’s always a major blow-out, and nowhere more so than in Massimo’s native Calabria.
‘If you can cope with multiple dishes, that’s the place to go,’ he smiles. ‘Our Christmas Day meal often runs to 13 courses, including stockfish stew, spaghetti with breadcrumbs and anchovies, meatballs, ‘nduja (spicy pork salami), baked pasta, zeppole (a pastry made of a deep-fried dough ball), sausage with broccoli, lampasciuni (wild onions) plus the leftovers from Christmas Eve.’
One British tradition that Massimo has enthusiastically adopted is the Christmas hamper. ‘At home, we just tend to give each other panettone (the Milanese sweet bread loaf made with raisins and candied fruits) and prosecco,’ he explains.
‘From the end of November, we’ll be offering pre-prepared Christmas hampers packed with tempting fine foods and wines. We’ll have four or five different sizes, all of which will be out on display in the store, and an extensive array – almost 20 in all – of proseccos and sparkling wines for all tastes and budgets.’
Each hamper will include Italian classics, such as panettone, pandoro (a sweet cake from Verona), torrone (nougat), zampone and cotechino (two types of sausage). ‘Of course, if they prefer, customers can have a good look around, take their pick from everything we have – cheese, ham, olive oils, vinegars, bread, pasta – and put together their own personal hamper,’ says Massimo. ‘Also, if someone is in a rush, they can simply leave their wish list with us and we’ll collect everything for them to pick up at a later date. We will also be delivering all hampers free of charge to any address with a Chiswick postcode.’
Massimo himself is particularly looking forward to another special seasonal treat that will be on offer throughout December. ‘Pastry Chef Signora Paola and her team will be making small panettone fresh every day on-site,’ he says with obvious relish. ’I promise you, they’re absolutely delicious – just perfect to enjoy with a coffee or hot chocolate on a cold winter morning.’
454-456 Chiswick High Road, W4 5TT