Italian Christmas Traditions: ‘La festa della concezione immacolata’, Christmas trees and a typical Tuscan recipe!

The Immaculate Conception of the Madonna - a difficult concept to capture in a painting! Here is an attempt by Piero di Cosimo, from his work in the Uffizi Gallery.

La festa della concezione immacolata di Maria (the Feast Immaculate Conception of Mary) is a Catholic festival day in celebration of the conception of Mary, sans mortal sin.


In Italy, the day is a public holiday. Since this year, the day falls on a Wednesday, many Italians are taking a few extra days off (known as a ‘ponte’, or, bridge) and having an extra long weekend.  On the day itself, public transport will be operating on Sunday timetables, whilst many stores and attractions will also be closed for this feast day.


This day has also become a typical day for families to put up their Christmas tree and other decorations in preparation for ‘Natale’ on the 25th December and it is also the first of many religious feast days in anticipation of Christmas.

For most families, it will be a day ….

of extra-long lunches. And since a ‘standard’ Italian lunch entails a starter dish, main and often a side dish and/or dessert, it really does mean that lunch in Italy tomorrow will be a spectacular affair (as are almost all special occasions, such as public holidays, birthdays and Sundays generally!).


There are not really any dishes that typically coincide with this particular day, although in Italy, whatever is served, it is near guaranteed to be made from local produce, with traditional recipes, and sure to be delicious!


The recipe that is going to have one Artviva staff member with her sleeves rolled up in the kitchen to prepare is this delicious dish with a fabulous name, ‘Malfatti Gratinati’.


Below is the recipe from Tessa Kiros’ ‘Twelve: a Tuscan cookbook’. Tessa is an Artviva friend, involved in the Artviva Festival (resuming again in 2011). Books are available in our office. If however you prefer a more hands-on approach, we also offer a range of cooking classes, and even cooking classes and market visits.


Artviva can also arrange a Tuscan hands-on cooking class or market visit and cooking class in Florence. If you’d prefer less hands-on but still enjoy the rewards of all that cooking, if you would like to learn more about wine production in Tuscany, or just practice some drinking of it in a traditional Tuscan setting, we have Tuscany tours that include typical Tuscan food and wine. We also have a wine tasting as part of our Original Evening Walk.


Malfatti gratinati

Baked spinach dumplings

By Tessa Kiros

Serves 6-8

1 quantity of béchamel sauce

250 ml fresh tomato sauce

1.2 kg fresh spinach or 500 g cooked spinach

500 g fresh ricotta cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

100 g (1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese


A little butter for greasing

60 g plain (all-purpose) flour


‘Malfatti’ means badly made, so don’t worry if your dumplings all look different ? that’s how they should be. This will make about 30 dumplings.


Prepare the béchamel using only 60 g of flour and set aside. Prepare a smooth, fresh tomato sauce, puréeing it if necessary, and set aside.


Clean the spinach and cook in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain, and when it has cooled, squeeze out the water very well with your hands. This is important as extra water will make it difficult for the dumplings to hold their shape.


Chop the spinach finely. Add the ricotta cheese, the eggs, half of the Parmesan cheese and a grating of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, and mix with a wooden spoon to make a soft mass.


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Liberally butter a large oven dish of substantial height, that will accommodate 30 dumplings and the béchamel. Dollop a little of the béchamel onto the bottom of the oven dish to just cover it.


Put the flour onto a flat plate and pat your hands in the flour. Using a tablespoon and your hands, form dumplings the size of a small egg, slightly elongated. Dust them very lightly in the flour and put them onto the béchamel in neat rows.


Cover with the remaining béchamel. Splash the surface with the tomato sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden. Serve hot.


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