Christmas Chickens, Hats and Hunchbacks

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Day.

We celebrated in the morning with the annual routine:  wake up excited, open presents and then play.

Puzzles from Santa

Puzzles from Santa

Then the afternoon focused around local traditions.  As with every holiday in Italy, it’s all about cooking and eating. Months ago I started consulting friends and store owners and anyone I could talk to.  We found that three dishes comprise the traditional Perugian Christmas dinner.  Each recipe was described with swooning detail and passion.  I tried to listen carefully and take notes.  Each one sounded difficult, and they all required hours to prepare.   So we started early.  The past several days were full of visits to the butcher, the grocer and the vegetable market. This was followed by prep sessions in the kitchen.  Together with Matt, Tom and Heidi, we faced a handful of obstacles and put our heads together when problems needed solving.  We moderated recipes and finally made a delicious Perugian Christmas feast.

Preparing vegetables and meat for a stock

Preparing vegetables and meat for a stock

1.  Capelletti and Brodo  (little hats in broth)

I practiced making this one back in September.  I wrote the recipe in a post on pasta.  It’s the easiest of the three Christmas courses.  While the broth takes about three hours to cook, it can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator.  And with Cristiano down the street, I can skip making the capelletti by hand and just watch him make them.  (It felt like cutting corners, but everyone else is doing it.)   So this afternoon, we started with a bowl of capelletti and broth; our first course.

2.  Galantina (Christmas Chicken with a cup of gelled broth)

The chicken skin: ready to fill.

The chicken skin: ready to fill.

This dish is considered very Perugian.  Armando at the grocery store assured me that it’s so provincial that you won’t even find it served in nearby Assisi. Basically, it’s a whole skinned and deboned chicken that is then ground with veal, prosciutto, pistachios, eggs, parmesan cheese, salt and nutmeg. Then all the ingredients are wrapped up in the chicken skin and sewed up with a regular needle and thread before being boiled for two hours, pressed under a heavy weight for another hour and then chilled overnight.   People looked at me skeptically when I said I was making it.  “It’s very difficult,” they reminded me.  Rinaldo, the butcher, walked me through it.  He deboned my chicken and removed the skin in one entire piece.  He ground all my meat for me and explained the process.

Stuffing the skin

Stuffing the skin

Tom sewed like a surgeon

Tom sewed like a surgeon.

3.  Gobbi Parmesan (layered hunchback with meat sauce and cheese)

“Gobbi” means hunchback in Perugian dialect.  In Italian it’s “cardi.” In English it translates to “cardoon.”  It’s a member of the artichoke family.  When it’s ready to be picked, it falls over a bit, resembling a hunchback.  Anyway, I made the meat sauce for the dish several days ago.  Then yesterday I went to Marcello’s vegetable stand to get my gobbies.  But there were none left.  Apparently, no one waits until Christmas Eve to start preparations on this bad boy.  There was one produce seller with a couple boxes left, but they were wilted and brown.  So I decided to make eggplant parmesan instead.  In doing so, I bypassed hours of gobbi cleaning, stripping, and boiling.  And the final product looks similar.

the word in Italian is "brutto"

Wilted, brown and tired.  The word in Italian for these boxes of gobbi  is “brutto.”

Heidi fries the eggplant

Heidi fries the alternative: eggplant

The eggplant parmesan assembly:  layers of meat sauce, fried eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.

The assembly: layers of tomato meat sauce, fried eggplant, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.

It all came together this afternoon.  We poured prosecco and toasted to being together and our attempts at creating an authentic Italian Christmas dinner.


A plate of galantina and meat gel.  Trust me, it was great.

A plate of galantina and meat gel. Trust me, it was great.

The evening is winding down.  Aunt Deanne and Uncle Richard gave us the six Star Wars movies for Christmas.  We are already on the second one.

Tomorrow we are taking a road trip to the Italian Alps for a week.  We hope to end up in Venice on New Year’s Eve.

Merry Christmas and lots of love from Perugia.


9 thoughts on “Christmas Chickens, Hats and Hunchbacks

  1. Merry Christmas all and have a great time in the Alps! After that herculean effort preparing an authentic Perugian Christmas meal you deserve serveral days off! So, Jill, are you going to open a deli or a restaurant when you return to Seattle? Or possibly write a travel book combined cookbook or maybe rest for a year and let people wait on you!
    Happy New Year!!
    Love and Hugs,
    Karen Sehrer

  2. Sprinkling with a little bit of blue sky on the Oregon Coast. Thinking of you all today – although it’s night for you – reading your blog and smelling our Christmas dinner cooking. Will toast you all tonight with our meal – much love to you and have fun in the Dolomites!

  3. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good day! The Alps are breathtaking, enjoy the views. When I visited Switzerland, I got to go to the very highest point in Europe, Jungfrau. Have a great time. Love you all, Callie

  4. Merry Christmas, Deasy clan! It’s so good to see Tom smiling. Is it because of the Seahawks? Can’t believe your year is half-way through.

  5. Merry Christmas! Your xmas food adventure sounded like it was a lot of work, but worth the effort. I’m so glad you get to have a week off to go on a vacation in the Alps. Christmas here was rainy, but nice. After a slightly botched attempt at a Santa sigting in the house, Zoe rallied on Christmas morning and was happy and pleased with the day – phew!

    My thoughts are always with you. Enjoy the Alps!

  6. Galantina looks like a raw football….Is Tom giving it a ”holiday bowl” review? A trip to the apps, sounds like a great download. What you are doing is so exhilarating real. The Alps are the ultimate Italian high.

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