I can hardly believe that it is THAT time of the year again! On one hand 2016 delivered some crazy challenges, but on the other hand, it also landed me back home. The holidays feel more “holiday” with the colder weather and certainly being around family and friends makes it extra special. My parents just arrived as well in Delaware in November and we are continuing the tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and incorporating the delightful mid-Atlantic seafood offerings. Helloooooo crab cakes!
Wishing you all the blessings of this holiday season however you are celebrating! And cheers to a happy and delicious New Year!
On Christmas Eve every year for many years, my family has celebrated the Feast of the Seven Fishes (festa dei sette pesci). This is a tradition if you are from Southern Italy or in many of the Italian-American homes on Christmas Eve, especially in the Northeast.
In Southern Italy, traditional dishes can include: anchovies, sardines, dried salt cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, and clams paired with pastas, vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods, and homemade wine. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is also known as The Vigil (La Vigilia) and is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
“It’s what Italians do when they say they’re fasting.” More precisely, the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. “No one’s quite sure of the significance of the number,” says Batali. “Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus.”
My family is not Italian, but so many of our family and friends who are Italian-American celebrate and it has been adapted as a beloved tradition. I even extend the Italian influenced noshing to Christmas Day where I lay out a full antipasto, make two kinds of lasagna, plus sausage and peppers!
The goal for Feast of the Seven Fishes is to serve … you got it … seven different types of fish and seafood. We have our traditional favorites in my family, so I thought I would share a sample menu to inspire your own adaptation.
Feast of the Seven Fishes is a grazing celebration for us. Food is set out as a buffet and everyone helps themselves. The two dishes at the end, coming off the stove and out of the oven are served right from the kitchen into steaming bowls of lushness!
Choose dishes that are easy to prepare ahead and simply set up when the eating begins. Bowls of mixed olives, chopped veggies for dipping, crackers, and bread are all important as well. Depending on how many people are coming, you can also set out a mixed antipasto or cheese and sausage board.
Feast of the Seven Fishes Sample Menu
Smoked Fish Dip with veggies and saltine crackers or flatbread
Conch Ceviche with saltine crackers or Carr’s crackers (Shrimp ceviche works beautifully as well!)
Spicy Mustard Crab Cakes with Lemon Garlic Aioli – Use this recipe and make mini crab cakes – they were a hit!
Cioppino – this is just a divine seafood celebration and you can also have linguine as a base.
Lemon Oven Roasted Salmon with Fennel and San Marzano Tomatoes is a big favorite for those who want a simpler dish. Again, you can serve over pasta!
Pasta con le Sarde– old school traditional pasta dish!
Dessert – No need for more fish! a plate of Italian cookies or cannolis works great!