We are lucky. As Italians, we’ve surely had our chance to be spoiled when it comes to food. Lucky and cursed at the same time, since our standards are so high!
This is particularly true as the holidays approach. We often find ourselves fighting at the stove to recreate that particular dish, hunting for a rare ingredient, digging into mom’s recipes and struggling with always imprecise instructions. “Mom, how much is a little bit?”  I find myself shouting into the telephone handset.
Each Italian region, city, family has its own dishes that are expected at Christmas.  For me, having grown up near Mantua, Tortelli di Zucca are a must on December 24, and Agnolini (our local version of tortellini), ideally in a broth made with capon, on Christmas Day.
The food scenario in Portland is indeed vibrant, and it’s a relief to know that many places offer traditional Italian dishes.
On Christmas Eve, two restaurants will be proposing seven-fish courses. Interestingly, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is Italian-American, but it certainly connects to the truly authentic Italian celebration of The Vigil with fish and seafood only: no blocks of caviar but please, no meat allowed (and we still have the nerve to call it “di magro!” Ah, crazy Italians!).
At Trattoria Gallo Nero,  chef Davide Filippini, a native of Florence, will be cooking cod “alla Livornese,” with potatoes, garlic, wine and tomatoes.  “It’s so good,” Davide says, “and it reminds me of my Aunt Ave and the huge meals at her place.”  He will also be preparing squid filled with tuna, capers, tomatoes, and mussels gratin as “a tribute to my grandma,” he smiles. “She would have turned anything into a gratin!”
Closed on Christmas day, Gallo Nero will be offering capon and other meat delicacies on December 26.
A Cena Ristorante in Portland’s Sellwood District will also be serving a feast of seven fishes family-style, featuring Octopus salad, baccalà, agnolotti with lobster, crab risotto, Casarecce with tuna and tomatoes. In December, they sell homemade holiday cookies. Their menu already includes tortellini filled with meats, Mortadella and prosciutto cooked in broth,  “a dish that reminds me of my childhood,” says Executive Chef Gabe Gabreski, who lived his earliest years in Bologna before moving to the U.S. with his Roman mom.
Bastas Trattoria on NW 21st Avenue, also open on Christmas Eve, has a festive menu for the entire month of December.  The menu includes tortelli filled with squash, amaretti and caramelized onions; grilled fresh eel Florentine-style; baccalà with leeks; homemade cotechino and goose prosciutto. “To me,” says owner Marco Frattaroli, who grew up in Livorno with a mom from Brescia, “Christmas meant a huge party in my uncle’s renaissance villa on the Garda Lake, and we would feast on game birds and courtyard poultry like duck and goose.”
Agnolotti in broth is the fond Christmas memory of Paolo Parilli, a true Varesotto, owner and chef of Caffe Allora on NW 9th in Portland’s Pearl District. He will recreate and propose these flavors on Christmas Eve. “Since we’ll be closed on the following day,” he explains, “we will have a menu that will fully represent the holidays, with fish and meat dishes like agnolotti, or roasted pork roll, filled with frittata and vegetables.”
Although many restaurants will close for the Vigil and Christmas, they still feature a festive menu in December. Mucca Osteria on SW Morrison Street, run by Simone Savaiano, who recently moved to Portland from Rome, is proposing white Alba and black Oregon truffles on fresh tagliatelle.
Piazza Italia on NW Johnson Street features baccalà in umido, agnolotti di carne al sugo, and crespelle in brodo, “one of our favorite traditional recipes, our family calls it scorpelle,” says owner Amy Schettini.
Nostrana on SE Morrison Street is serving agnolotti dal plin (with mixed meats and spinach filling) in broth, and zuppa imperiale, a Bolognese soup with special bread in capon broth.
All restaurants that I interviewed close for Christmas day.  How about getting take-out? Taste Unique Traditional Italian Kitchen, located on SE Division Street, is the perfect spot. There are several dishes “di magro,” such as a special zucchini and smoked salmon lasagna, spinach cannelloni and ravioli, savory tarts with vegetables and cheese. Suitable for Christmas day are the classic lasagna, ravioli with meat filling and homemade Panettone, a quite complicated recipe that needs to rise for 24 hours. “I bought a special set of blankets to keep my babies warm,” reveals Stefania Toscano, owner and chef from Perugia, who relocated in the U.S. not too long ago.
Hungry for more? Check out my blog www.cookwithgrazia.com for easy recipes. Among them is the iconic Vov liquor, perfect to end your celebratory meals.  It also makes an unexpected traditional Italian homemade gift.

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