December 26th in Italy is celebrated as the day of Santo Stefano, St Stephen. Boxing Day in the boot-shaped peninsula is a public holiday commemorating the first Christian martyr, but in modern times today’s recurrence is il giorno degli avanzi, “the day of the leftovers.” Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are probably the two largest meals Italians engage in throughout the entire year, and the food that’s left over is normally recycled and enjoyed for lunch on Santo Stefano day.
We mentioned how Italians are crafty with food in their ingrained custom of reusing food scraps, which results in reducing household food waste. Of course you can make classic lasagna or use meat to make meatballs out of all that uneaten Christmas food, but here are a few classic recipes normally found on the Santo Stefano table that make delicious use of holiday leftovers.
When after the Feast of the Seven Fishes there are leftovers, we normally make Russian Salad… No, I’m not losing my mind, Insalata russa is an Italian holiday staple! Its origins are indeed Russian, but many countries have elaborated a modern version that replaces offal, game, crayfish tails and pickles with boiled, cubed potatoes, carrots, peas, eggs and brined dill pickles, dressed with a light, homemade mayo. The holiday addition that makes this a Santo Stefano special is the fish. When my mother serves a 3-Kg wild-caught sea creature on Christmas Eve, there is always some left over. I help her pick all the flesh from the bones and she adds it to insalata russa, shapes it into a fish mold, uses a pitted olive for the eye and thin cucumber slices as scales.
Passatelli in brodo
With the carcass of whatever poultry was baked for the festivities Italians make killer broth. While tortellini get all the attention on Christmas Day, come Santo Stefano, homemakers in Italy, and in Emilia-Romagna in particular, get to work making passatelli in brodo. A thick dough made of of cheese, breadcrumbs and egg yolks is pressed through a special sieve-like implement to form golden noodles, which are cooked in the broth and served piping hot. Nothing like a bowl of passatelli to soothe an overworked holiday stomach!
Supplì & Arancini
Have leftover risotto? Make rice balls! All you need to add to your leftovers is eggs, breadcrumbs, patience and vegetable oil for frying! Mix the rice and beaten eggs, shape into croquettes, roll in the breadcrumbs and fry until golden.
Frittata di Pasta
If you have Italian ancestry, your family probably made loads of pasta during the holidays. If any is left over, whisk it together with beaten eggs and pour into a hot, slightly greased skillet. Fry on both sides and serve it with a crisp salad and a glass of white wine.
Panettone & Pandoro reloaded
Besides warming up slices of panettone and dunking them in large bowls of caffellatte, Italians rework the odd slice of leftover Christmas cake to become a fantastic ingredient for crafty post-holiday desserts. Think “panettone tiramisu,” for instance: swap the ladyfingers for strips of panettone soaked in coffee. Every Italian knows that panettone and mascarpone cream are a true match made in heaven. Another great way of using leftover panettone is employing the golden dough as a crumble, topping a classic apple, or pear and cinnamon base. Leftover pandoro is perfect for Santo Stefano morning French toast!
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, journalist, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her show “ABCheese” is broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso. She loves guiding culturally curious, food-passionate travellers seeking experiences in Italy beyond the guidebook.