How ‘Bout Sciabbo for Christmas?

December 22, 2011

So you’re wringing your hands trying to figure out what in blazes to cook for Christmas Eve?

You can unwring them now: sciabbò is the answer.

These are Sicilian Christmas noodles: a wonderfully easy dish that drew raves (I kid you not) from my three luncheon guests today. The recipe comes from Pomp and Sustenance by Mary Taylor Simeti. Mary is the absolute authority on Sicilian cuisine and its history, and I’m thrilled she’s given me permission to share it with you.

Take a look at some of the ingredients:

Some of the ingredients for sciabbo, Sicilian Christmas noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Yes! Cocoa and cinnamon and red wine go into sciabbo.

The complete list of ingredients:

1 medium onion

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 pound pork meat, diced small (I used ground pork)

2 T tomato extract or 3 T tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

2 cups plain tomato sauce (I used a good store-bought sauce)

2 cups water


1/2 t ground cinnamon

1 T sugar

1 T unsweetened cocoa

1.5 pounds lasagna ricce (I used pappardelle)


Sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the pork and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the tomato extract and the  wine, stirring to dissolve the extract completely.

Cooking Sciabbo, Sicilian Christmas Noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Add the tomato sauce and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick.

Sciabbo, Sicilian Christmas Noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Correct the salt (if the extract is salty, it may not be necessary to add more). Stir in the cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa.

Cook the pasta in abundant salted water until it is al dente, drain well, and toss with the sauce. You may wish to serve grated cheese on the side, although I think sciabbo is better without it.

Sciabbo, Christmas Noodles, copyright Jann Huizenga

Merry Christmas!


Some Sicilian-Americans still cook seven fishes for Christmas Eve, but Mary Taylor Simeti emailed me that this tradition pretty much died out in Sicily itself after World War II. She has written other wonderful books too, including Sicilian Food: Recipes from an Abundant Isle and a memoir, On Persephone’s Island.


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26 comments to How ‘Bout Sciabbo for Christmas?

  • Saint Rocco

    Thank you for this delicious recipe Jann. I made it for my Sicilian wife and children as our pre-Christmas dinner just prior to attending Midnight Mass here in LA.

    God bless you for this blog and may your family have a blessed Christmas day!

  • Jann, I read cocoa and cinnamon and my brain started spinning! I cannot wait to try this recipe! The Signficant Other was standing behind me when I clicked on your post and he said, “When are you making it?” hee hee! Just one question, where can I get the lasagna rice? I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never used it before. 🙂

    • Jann

      Bella, I should have clarified that in the recipe. Lasagna ricce are a curly lasagna noodle. If you made them yourself, you could cut them smaller than the standard fat lasagna noodle for this recipe. But if you’re not ready to make pasta from scratch, just use a fat pappardelle noodle or fettucine noodle or something like that. Italians are very particular about which kind of noodle they use for which sauce, but I pretty much think that all noodles taste alike and that you can use anything you like with any sauce!

  • Joe Taormina

    I agree with Pina Marra. The fish tradition has not died out.

    • Jann

      Thanks, Joe! Do you live in Sicily? (Taormina??:))

    • Joe Taormina

      Hi Jann,
      No, I am from Gloucester, MA. I have only visited once. I am first generation here. 45% of Gloucester (big fishing town)are Italian or Italian descent….most from Sicily. My family is from Terrasini…..but people here hail from Trapetto, Sciacca, Palermo, Trapani, etc. We have only fish & pasta on Christmas Eve.

    • Jann

      Oh, I must visit Gloucester someday–I’ve heard it’s beautiful and I didn’t know there were so many people there of Sicilian descent. Hope you’re having a great Christmas there. It was a fun day here–everyone enthusiastically shaking hands and kissing and shouting “Auguri!”

  • Linda

    Jan, looks good, can’t wait to try it! Bruno insists it is from the “south” I thought we were south but apparently not enough. The 7 fishes debate – not one sicilian here in Siracusa seemed to have an idea about this tradition- not even my 86yr old suocera. My family back in RI observes it and we are from Le Marche!

    • Jann

      By south, what does Bruno mean? Around Sciacca?? Mazara?

    • Linda

      I guess Ragusa province ? He thinks Rosolini is too south!Thank goodness I drive or I would never see anything. He does not venture off Ortigia enough! He doesn’t trust the cookies from Modica made with the meat and cocoa either but I love them.
      We will be coming “south” in a few weeks and maybe can meet up ?! ciao

    • Jann

      Oh! OK! Ha ha. It’s true that many Sicilians don’t like to leave their own province (they’re very territorial:)), but I see Siracusa as part of “my” southern region. Doesn’t trust those delicious ‘mpanattighi? Yes, let’s meet up. I’ll email you…

  • Pina Marra

    Sorry, but nobody eats meat in the South of Italy on Christmas Eve…only fish, I think Mary is wrong, the tradition hasn’ died at all…
    Anyway, Merry Xmas to you!

    • Jann

      🙂 Ciao Pina! Well, Christmas EVE was my own American spin–Mary calls them “Christmas noodles” so perhaps they’re eaten on Christmas Day? Since most Americans are pretty tied to a big hunk of roast beef, or a big ham, or a big turkey on Christmas Day itself, these noodles seem perfect for a quiet Christmas Eve (for Americans).
      So in Calabria do you do one fish? Seven fish??? Please tell more!

  • sandee wheeler

    It looks Yummy, Jann! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!!!

  • Jann,
    My taste buds are swinging, singing, smiling.

    WOWWWW. Xx

    Have a great holiday, sweets. 🙂

  • vicki carol

    I have never heard of Coco and cinnamon in a meat sauce recipe before, but I will give it a try. I was looking for something to try other than my ususal Chile on Christmas Eve.
    What is a Christmas Day Meal like? Do they exchange gifts as we do? Thanks for sharing, love learning the customs.

    • Jann

      Vicki, I will try to find out more… There’s a saying in Italian that Christmas is for family and Easter is for friends, so since Christmas is a family day, I haven’t gotten a peek into what really goes on in the home on that day here in Sicily.

  • Nancy Hersch

    This sauce sounds delicious. The addition of cocoa is interesting. Will have to try this recipe for sauce.

  • Is there a seat at the table for me? I’ll be there as soon as I can get a flight! Looks great. Thanks for sharing

  • Pat

    Thank you, Jan …. I needed some inspiration about now!

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