Feast of the Seven Fishes
Italian style recipes for the night before Christmas feast.
On Dec. 24, the night before Christmas, families with Italian roots get together for La Virgil di Natale [Christmas Vigil] and celebrate by consuming fish instead of meat. In this Southern Italian tradition, seven different types of fish are served to represent the number seven, which is associated with perfection or God, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven Sacraments of the church, and/or the seven hills of Italy.
According to the tradition, there are no requirements as to which type of fish is served, but historically, Italian families would commonly serve eel and octopus. Today, eel and octopus is not regularly consumed as one must have a real taste for them, but I remember eating the two with my family during the celebration as a child. Common dishes that have been passed through families and generations have been slightly altered over the years, but many include swordfish, octopus, clams, shrimp, lobster, squid, baccala, and oysters, to name a few.
I celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes with my family and look forward to it every year. Although some cooking traditions have stuck with me over the years, some of our menu choices have been adapted to fit the price and availability of certain types of seafood. For example, the price of snails have recently skyrocketed and may be harder to come by this holiday season.
Here are two simple recipes I suggest you try for your own families during the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
- 1 cup calamari rings
- 2 cups fine corn meal/flour
- 2 tablespoons of garlic butter
- 2 oz sliced hot peppers
- 2 oz sliced black olives
- 1 oz diced red roasted peppers or pimento
- 1 oz white wine
- 4 cups vegetable oil
- 1/2 oz parsley
- 10" or 12" deep pan & 9" saute pan
Dredge the calamari rings in cornmeal until completely coated inside and out, then shake off the excess cornmeal.
Heat the oil in the pan to about 350 degrees or until you can see the oil start to ripple. Next, place the calamari into the oil slowly as not to cool the oil too fast or cause oil to splatter. When browned, take out with a slotted spoon to drain the oil.
In the saute pan, add the garlic butter and all other ingredients. When the garlic butter is melted, add the cooked calamari to the mixture to coat. This dish can be served alone or over your favorite pasta.
Capellini con le Vongole (Capellini with clam sauce)
- 3 1/2 lb. of littleneck clams
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon of hot pepper flakes
- 10 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup of canned plum tomatoes, seeded and sliced
- 4 tablespoons of fresh chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- 1 lb. capellini
- 14" skillet
Put washed clams on a tray and freeze for 30 minutes. Working over a bowl to catch the clam juice, open clams with a shucking knife, cutting meat away from shells. Let the meat and juice fall into the bowl.
Sift through the bowl and retrieve the clams and let the juice settle to allow the particles to fall to the bottom. Next, chop the clams into large pieces. Strain the settled juice with either a cheesecloth, fine sieve or a coffee filter and save the juice (you do not want any sediment left in the juice).
Pour 8 tablespoons of olive oil into the skillet and leave on medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic pieces and heat until sizzling and add pepper flakes. Heat for another minute until garlic starts to brown. Then add tomatoes and the reserved, strained, clam juice and cook for 3 to 4 minutes at a fast simmer.
Add the chopped clams and lower the heat allowing the mixture to continue cooking. When sauce has achieved a nice density, add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in parsley and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Serve over al dente capellini.