The Vatican Christmas Cookbook: a feast for the mouth and eyes

For the last few weeks, we’ve been eating like popes—quite literally, because I’ve been testing recipes in The Vatican Christmas Cookbook. Food has always been a part of my favourite holiday memories, from stuffed French toast made by my Mom for Christmas breakfast to the turkey itself, cooked to perfection under the watchful eye of my uncle. I was super excited to add this Catholic cookbook to my collection of Christmas cookbooks, but from the recipes to the artwork, this cookbook goes way beyond any other I have.

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook

I received this book for review courtesy of the publisher; all opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook overview

In so many ways, the world is different than it was only a few short months ago, but there are some fundamentals that remain unchanged. One of them is food. Food is essential. Food is the sustenance of life. ~ David Geisser, Swiss Guard Emeritus, Vatican Christmas Cookbook

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook includes more than 100 new and unique recipes from the Vatican and all over the world, presented by acclaimed chef and former Swiss Guard David Geisser. More than just a cookbook, The Vatican Christmas Cookbook includes stunning behind-the-scenes photos and historical memories about Christmases past. From one Swiss Guard’s memories of his first Christmas guarding Pope St. John Paul II to stories of Christmas celebrations under other popes, this book draws us into the liturgical celebrations of this magical season.

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook is divided into seven sections:

  • Advent
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas
  • Christmas with the Popes
  • Christmas Desserts and Cookies
  • Christmas Around the World
  • Epiphany

Stories and full-page photographs are interspersed through the recipes. For example, you can read about the “history of Christmas” or “Christmas at the Vatican.” These notes make this more than just a cookbook. Food draws us together in celebration, but the food and celebration have a deeper meaning. Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to live more liturgically, to find traditions to bring our faith alive for our kids. The foods and stories in this Catholic cookbook are just another way to do this in our family.

The Vatican Christmas cookbook, resting on a stove with salt and pepper shakers and three canisters labeled garlic, pasta and utensils.

Let’s Talk about the Recipes

I love trying out new recipes, whether I’m baking or cooking. As soon as I got The Vatican Christmas Cookbook, I flipped through the pages with my sticky notes, marking recipes that I wanted to try right away. I quickly put in a grocery order with all the ingredients I needed to create Lasagna Bolognese, Apple Bread, Polish Borscht, Stuffed Chicken Breast with Peppers, Sables, and more. My one concern about the recipes in this book was whether they’d be too “fancy” for my slightly picky eaters.

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook is a fancy cookbook. When I grew up, my mom was often in the kitchen and she was not only a much better cook and baker than I am, she was also adventuresome. She made some pretty fancy meals and desserts at home. As I read through this book, I had fond memories of spending time in the kitchen with her. I also had to look up some of the ingredients. My grocery store did have pecorino (a hard, slightly salty cheese similar to parmesan) but not coppacola ham, which can be substituted with prosciutto, according to Chef Google. I passed over the recipes for veal and venison, and stuck to the more-familiar pork tenderloin and chicken breasts.

There are elegant recipes here, gourmet food prepared and well-served in the haute cuisine manner. Any cookbook will do well to include exceptional innovations and stunning presentations that are feasts for the eyes. There are many more recipes that are simple and satisfying. For most meals, ease of preparation is important, especially in difficult times or complicated circumstances, as are so prevalent today. ~ David Geissner, acclaimed chef and Swiss Guard emeritus

The first recipe I tried was Lasagna Bolognese. Lasagna is one of my all-time favourite meals, but I rarely order it at restaurants because I often find it disappointing. Could the Lasagna Bolognese in The Vatican Christmas Cookbook measure up to my own tried and true recipe? I ordered the ingredients, got out my pots, and started cooking. I actually made a double-batch of the lasagnas (with two pots going on my stove at the same time!) so I could take a meal to a friend of mine dealing with frequent medical appointments. The Lasagna Bolognese was easy to assemble and met not only my approval for tastiness, but also my picky eaters’ approval. Joey ate half of his plate and then looked at me happily and said, “I like this.” (My friend’s family also enjoyed it.)

Pork tenderloin in puff pastry, stuffed with capers, olives and sundried tomatoes.

Next, I made the Papalin Fettucine with the Pork Tenderloin in Puff Pastry. The Papalin Fettucine could be a meal on its own, with ham and peas in the sauce, but I left out the ham and served it as a side dish. We frequently have pasta with butter and parmesan on it, so this was a slightly-fancier version of that. I was a bit doubtful of what the girls would think of pecorino cheese (as I snacked on it before putting it into the pasta), but I needn’t have worried. The pasta disappeared with its usual rapidity. The Pork Tenderloin in Puff Pastry was stuffed with sundried tomatoes, capers and olives. The kids enjoyed the puff pastry and tender pork, but weren’t huge fans of the stuffing, so there was extra for my husband and I. Overall, it was a delicious, restaurant-worthy meal that was surprisingly easy to put together.

Many of the cookie recipes are gluten-free, using almond flour instead. Butter and cream are relied on heavily throughout The Vatican Christmas Cookbook. Quite a few recipes also take half an egg, so if you use 4 egg yolks to make the sherry sauce for the Stuffed Chicken Breast with Peppers, save the egg whites to make the amaretti (almond cookies).

Christmas sables, one of the delicious cookie recipes in a Christmas cookbook.

A few other recipes I’m planning to make include:

  • Pumpkin Soup Amaretto
  • Little Santas (bread shaped like Santa for St. Nicholas Day)
  • Roasted Trout with Fennel and Baguette
  • Clafouti
  • Dark Toblerone Mousse
  • Chocolate Almond Cookies
  • Cinnamon Stars

Creating Christmas Traditions

Christmas will be very different for my family this year with the unexpected passing of my aunt and uncle this fall. As we deal with their loss and the complications of a pandemic, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make Christmas joyful, without relying on the usual circumstances and events of past years. While food can’t completely make up for missing family members (whether that’s because of death or distance), special foods do offer a measure of comfort and joy. Many of my kitchen dishes and utensils have been inherited from relatives, and so as I serve up a festive meal on my husband’s grandma’s china or put the pickles in the same dish that my grandma always used, I feel as if they are with us in spirit.

While I eagerly jumped into trying new recipes, I’ve also been planning what to make in the coming holiday season. When I was baking the pork tenderloin, Lily looked at the cookbook and said, “But it’s not Christmas Eve!” I replied that it wasn’t Christmas Eve yet, but if we liked this recipe, we could make it again then.

Christmas cookbook underneath a small Christmas tree.

If you need an easy way to start some Christmas traditions, The Vatican Christmas Cookbook offers that with an open-and-go menu plan. What should you make for Advent? Barley or pumpkin soup, of course, with apple bread or little santas. What should you have on Christmas Eve? Pizza Raclette or Lasagna Bolognese. How about Epiphany? Honour the Three Wise Men with some Middle Eastern recipes. Need some new recipes for the Christmas meal itself? There are plenty to choose from here!

We have also included several communal meals, from fondues to fajitas, mean to be shared at table among friends, family and guests. These are the best of meals because they encourage and emphasize the human tough. We gather close to each other, pass the vittles and plates from one to another, talk and laugh, enjoy the human moment with food as companion. Enjoy. ~ Geissner

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook is available from Sophia Institute Press, your favourite Catholic bookstores, and Amazon. If you enjoy this cookbook, you may also want to check out The Lenten Cookbook with recipes by David Geissner and essays by Scott Hahn.

What special Christmas traditions or meals do you have? Do you want to celebrate Christmas like the Vatican?

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