Tag Archive | "Feast of the Seven Fishes"

The Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Festa dei Sette Pesci)

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The Feast of the Seven Fishes (la festa dei sette pesci), celebrated on Christmas Eve, also known as The Vigil (La Vigilia), is believed to have originated in Southern Italy. Today, it is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes (although some families may change the number to nine or eleven). This Feast takes me back to my childhood during the Great Depression.  If you want your family to enjoy a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, you’ll have to prepare the following:

Warm Seafood Salad



12 mussels cleaned. Scrubbed  and rinsed

6 baby octopus, boiler 45 minutes with cork and cooled

12 Prawns (large shrimp), peeled and developed

4 small squid peeled and cleaned whole, the cut with scissors into rings

2 scallions thinly sliced

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 cup extra- virgin olive oil

1 tbsp hot red pepperoncini flakes

¼ cup fresh mint leaves

1 cup of parsley

2 cut lemons

Salt & fresh ground pepper

Kosher salt



Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar, add mussels, octopus, and prawns and boil for 1 minute.  The prawns will redden and mussels will start to open.  Add squid and continue cooking until squid becomes translucent (a few minutes).  Drain mixture into a warm bowl.  Add scallions, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and mint.  Toss to mix and coat.  Add parsley and toss again.  Serve with lemon wedges and kosher salt.  Voila!

Mussels Marinara




1 cup of olive oil

2 red onions finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic minced

8 dozen mussels, de-bearded well scrubbed and rinsed

2 cans of beer

2 large cans of whole tomato squeezed

3 tbsp of kosher salt

3 tbsp of cracked black pepper

1 cup of fresh basil leaves

1 lb. Linguine



Heat oil in a large stock pot.  Gently saute onions and garlic till golden brown.  Add mussels, beer, tomatoes, salt, pepper and fresh basil.  Cover pot and simmer until mussels open.  Remove mussels to serving plate, (discard unopened mussels).  Spoon sauce over mussels and linguine.  Serve hot.

Jumbo Shrimp Marsala




1 cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion diced

1 rib of celery with leaves cut in 1 inch pieces

1 can of diced tomato

1 tbsp of pine nuts

2 tbsp of capers rinsed and drained

1 cup of Marsala wine

½ tsp of fennel seed

2 lbs of Large shrimp / prawns peeled and de-veined

salt and fresh ground pepper



In a 10-12 inch sauce pan,heat oil over medium – high, heat until almost smoking, add onions and celery and cook until softened.  Add tomatoes, pine nuts, capers, Marsala wine and fennel seed.  Bring to a boil, then remove pan from heat and layer shrimp in tomato mixture and add bread crumbs.  Cover pan and simmer (low heat) for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and salt and pepper to taste.  Allow to stand 5 minutes covered.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Clams with Oregano & Bread Crumbs
(Vongole Oreganata)




24 littleneck clams (medium)

½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 cups of bread crumbs

kosher salt & fresh ground pepper

2 tbsp of oregano



Carefully open clams, saving the liquid in a bowl.  Discard top shells, loosen but do not remove clams from bottom shells.  Arrange clams in a 10-12 inch pan.  Heat oil over medium heat till just smoking.  Add garlic and cook till softened.  Add bread crumbs.  Cook till golden brown (3 minutes).  Remove mixture from heat and salt and pepper.  Allow to cool.  Stir in reserve liquid and oregano.  Preheat broiler (350), add 2 tsp of mixture to each clam and broil for 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Drizzle with extra oil and serve.

Grilled Smelts with Lima Beans




1 cup of Lima Beans (soaked overnight in 6 cups of water)

1 medium red onion thinly sliced

1 bunch of mint (leaves only)

1 cup of olive oil

2 tbsp of hot pepper flakes

1 tsp of capers

1 ½ lbs of fresh cleaned smelts

3 tbsp of red wine vinegar

1 head of Frisee lettuce (washed & spun dry)

2 tbsp of chili oil



Drain soaked beans, place in pot with 4 quarts of water, and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer until tender.  Drain and cool.  Place cool beans in a mixing bowl.  Add onions, mint, and ½ cup of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat and set aside.  Place remaining oil in a blender, add chili, oil pepper flakes and capers and blend until smooth.  Pour mixture in a bottle with cap and set aside.  Preheat grill.  Place cleaned smelts on hottest part of grill and cook thoroughly (1 minute per side).  Meanwhile, add vinegar to bean mixture and coat salad (toss to mix) and place on platter.  Remove fish from grill and arrange around salad and serve.

Oysters, Spinach and Pancetta Gratin




12 large oysters

2 oz pancetta (bacon), chopped

1 tbsp of olive oil

3 tbsp of butter

1 shallot minced

10 oz of spinach (frozen)

½ cup of bread crumbs

hot sauce to taste (optional)



Preheat oven 400 degrees F.  Shuck oysters and separate them from shells (discard top shells and reserve liquid set aside).  In a skillet, saute pancetta till brown (4 minutes), add shallots, defrosted spinach, and 2 tbsp of butter.  Stir while sauteing for few minutes, add a dash of hot sauce, stir and set aside.  Melt remaining butter in skillet, then remove from heat and add bread crumbs and some of reserve liquid to moisten bread crumbs.  Place oyster shells on a baking sheet and spoon spinach mixture on each shell and top with an oyster.  Sprinkle bread crumb mix on top of oysters.  Bake 3-4 minutes until bread crumbs are golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Baccala in Red Sauce
(Cod Fish in Red Sauce)




4 lbs of salt cod fish cut in 3” pieces

3 tbsp of olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 bunch of celery cut in 3” pieces

2 cups of Gaeta olives

2 cups of white wine

4 cans of San Marzano tomatoes

10 cups of chicken broth

8-10 potatoes diced

Chopped parsley leaves

salt & pepper to taste



Soak cod fish in water 3 days (refrigerate) to get rid of excess salt, change water twice a day.  3 days later, in a large casserole, heat oil, and saute onions and celery until golden brown.  Add olives and wine.  Then reduce by half, stir in tomatoes and broth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer.  Add potatoes and codfish.  Cook until codfish breaks with fork and potatoes are tender, add parsley and seasonings, and serve over your favorite pasta.

PLEASE NOTE: This feast is not be confused with the fishes and barley loaves of the Biblical stories and should be eaten by sampling each dish and not gorging yourself into oblivion.  Remember a little bit of this feast goes along way, please pass the Briosche!

Christmas Eve in Italy (Vigilia di Natale in Italia)

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Feast of the Seven Fishes

Christmas Eve in America is celebrated with pagan rites, Santa Clause, Reindeer, Tree trimming, and last minute shopping in preparation for the birthday of Jesus the Christ.


In Italy it is a Holy Day, celebrating the eve of the birth of Jesus.  It is called The Vigil (La Vigilia) and is celebrated as a feast day.  The Nativity is the heralding of the newborn King in Bethlehem, Judea and the story of Christmas.


In Italy, particularly Southern Italy, the celebration of La Vigilia is composed of an odd number of fish dishes, 7, 11, or 13.  For more than 1000 years during fasting periods amongst Roman Catholics, meat was forbidden, as it is for certain Lenten meals.  In place of meat, fish was substituted.  Thus, Christmas Eve represented a day of abstention from meat, and the feast of the fishes became tradition.


During the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, many Italians immigrated to America and, with them, they brought their old world customs.  The Feast of the Seven Fishes was one of them.  The number 7 represents The Seven Sacraments, 11 represents the 12 Apostles minus Judas, and 13 represents the 12 Apostles plus Jesus.  From these computations was derived the number of courses of the meal.


Over the years, the number of courses has diminished to the currently-accepted 7 fishes and pasta.  Among Italian-Americans, there is no uniformity in the way in which the meal is served and individual family traditions reign supreme.  Usually, however, the first course is Pasta with garlic and oil (Aglio Olio), which signifies the purity of the virgin birth, followed by shellfish, crustacean, squid, eel, octopus, small finfish, and large finfish.  The ritual of eating in this order signifies a progression in the nature and size of the fish consumed as one moves closer to God.


To those who live in proximity to New York City and find they would like to celebrate Christmas Eve Italian-style without all the preparation required, try visiting Mulberry Street.  Here, you can find many old world Italian restaurants that serve traditional Holiday meals.


Italian-Americans who follow this tradition relive and commemorate a time when Christmas Eve meant a gathering of one’s family – including grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – to share the joy of the Eve of the birth of our Savior.

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