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  • How to Make a Last-Minute Italian-Style Gift Basket

    Get ideas for the kinds of gifts Italian (or Italophile) family and friends will appreciate
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    You're running out of time. It's almost Christmas, and you still have not bought a gift for those hard-to-shop-for family and friends. Consider Italian-style gift giving.

    In Italy, Christmas is not as much about the gifts. Certainly, young kids get presents from Santa, known as Babbo Natale on Dec. 25. And La Befana, the Italian Christmas witch, offers a small present to each child on the Epiphany, Jan. 6.

    But, at least in southern Italy, the grown ups don't really exchange gifts. The holidays are punctuated by time spent with family gathered around the table. Even as my family immigrated to the United States, it maintained that style of Christmas. But Italians and Italian Americans never show up to someone's house for celebrating empty handed. Often, even if they are not spending the holidays with a loved one, they want to demonstrate they are thinking of them.

    So, they often give gift baskets full of homemade treats. The traditional items include cookies, biscotti, candies, and cakes. But many also jazz it up with staples from the supermarket. In fact, Italian supermarkets advertise products for these baskets, known as cestini, throughout the holiday season.

    My family has definitely kept up the tradition of “cestini” for the holidays. Sometimes, my father and his sisters will exchange full grocery bags as gifts. I kid you not. Inside, there will be pasta, dried sausage, various cheeses, and maybe some olive oil.

    When I was in Italy, I made honey roasted peanuts, an assortment of American cookies (including peanut butter, chocolate chip, and sugar cookies), and then I purchased supermarket staples to fill up the baskets. I included holiday kitchen towels, coffee, or supermarket gift boxes. One family member received a box with a couple of cheeses and two little bottles of jam and a cheese spreader.

    Discover some great gift basket ideas that you can pick up right at the grocery store:

    • Baker's Delight – Buy a transparent canister, fill it up with the dry ingredients for your favorite cookie. Then, tape the recipe card to the canister. Fill out the rest of the basket with pre-packaged icing, sprinkles, and other decorations. And you can also add a cookie cutter or spatula to either the basket or the bow.
    • Savory Sensation – Pick up a few dipping dishes or a reusable, decorative olive oil bottle. Put some of your favorite extra-virgin olive oil in the bottle. Or include some sort of vinegar. Balsamic is a favorite with my family and friends. Pack up the rest of the basket with crunchy Italian breadsticks, cheeses, or salami.
    • Excellent Espresso – Coffee lovers will delight in receiving a couple of espresso cups and some favorite espresso. Illy and Kimbo are popular options with Italians. You can also opt for American coffee and coffee mugs if that's the recipient's preference. For this one, you get extra points for including demitasse spoons, which are increasingly difficult to find in the United States anyway. Of course, you can add some homemade biscotti, lemons (for those who include lemon peel), or a bottle of Sambuca. Oh yeah, Italians like to liquor up that espresso, especially during the holidays. How else are you gonna put up with crazy nonno?
    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.
    Article Published 12/18/17


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