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Insalata di Baccala e Peperoni

La Festa dei Sette Pesce

La Vigilia

For many families in Italy, particularly in the southern part of the country, Christmas Eve festivities revolve around a meal composed of an odd number of fish dishes – seven, nine, eleven or thirteen.

Fish was eaten on La Vigilia because for more than a thousand years, meat was forbidden to Roman Catholics during fasting periods. Christmas Eve is one of those periods, until the fast could be broken at Midnight Mass and Holy Communion could be taken.

It is fascinating to note that even the serving order of dishes in the meal is considered important. Often shellfish is served first, crustaceans next, then squid, octopus, a small fin fish, then large fin fish. This is roughly connected to an ascent of the spiritual ladder.  So, as one eats their way through the dishes, one moves closer to God.

Regardless of what fish is served, there is always a pasta dish. It might be served simply with olive oil and garlic, with perhaps a bit of anchovy.

This year we are delighted to present seven recipes for the Christmas Eve Feast, so enjoy the evening with family and make sure to explain the tradition to the younger ones.

Stuffed Calamari alla Marion


  • 3 lb. squid (3″- 4″) fully cleaned
  • 1/2 cup squid tentacles, finely chopped
  • 2 oz olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (unflavored)
  • 1/2 cup mixture of Parmigiano cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups basil


Put 2 ounces of olive oil with crushed red pepper and minced garlic and basil in a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan. Heat over a medium-high flame until the garlic is fragrant and lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and 1 can of water; add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil and then simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Remove from flame and add 1/2 cup of the parsley.

Meanwhile, make the calamari stuffing by combining the bread crumbs, chopped squid tentacles, chopped garlic, Parmigiano, remaining parsley, eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Stuff each of the tubes of the calamari with the squid mixture and secure tops with toothpicks.

Once all of the squid has been stuffed add the squid to the tomato sauce and cook over a low flame for only 15 minutes. Do not overcook the fish.

Clams in Cider with Fennel and White Beans

Courtesy of Rachael Ray


  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fennel fronds, chopped
  • 1 cup hard cider
  • 1 can (15-oz) cannellini beans
  • 36 Littleneck Clams, scrubbed well
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and chopped


In a large pot, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic and sliced fennel. Cook until softened and browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cider, beans and clams. Cover and steam until the clams have opened, about 7 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open. Stir in the fennel fronds and apple and serve.

Scungilli Salad

Courtesy of LaMonica Foods


  • 1 can (29-oz) LaMonica Scungilli, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the scungilli, garlic, oil and parsley into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with lemon juice and mix well.

Refrigerate and serve chilled.

Octopus and Potato Salad

Courtesy of Lidia Bastianich, from her new book: Felidia


  • 2-1/2 lb cleaned octopus
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, preferably Sicilian, on the branch
  • 1/4 tsp pepperoncino flakes
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1-1/2 lb russet potatoes
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped marinated artichoke hearts
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped


Place the octopus in a pot where it will fit snuggly. Scatter the garlic, oregano and pepperoncino. Add a cup of water and bring to a bare simmer. Cover tightly and cook until the octopus is very tender when pierced with a fork, about 90 minutes. Add more water as necessary throughout the cooking time to keep an inch of water in the bottom of the pan.

While the octopus cooks, combine 2 cups of water and the vinegar and bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the red onion and simmer until it droops, but still has some bite to it, about 5 minutes, then drain. In the meantime, in another saucepan, simmer the potatoes whole until fork-tender, about 25 minutes, or more, depending on size. Drain and when cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 1-inch chunks.

When the octopus is done, rinse to cool slightly and cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces. In a large serving bowl, combine the octopus, red onion, potatoes and artichoke hearts. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil and toss. Season with salt and sprinkle with parsley. Toss and serve.

Grilled Swordfish Tagliata alle Erbe

Courtesy of Lidia Bastianich, from her new book: Felidia


  • 2 skinless swordfish steaks, about 1-1/2 lb total, 1 inch thick
  • 7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped mixed herbs (chives, basil, parsley, thyme and fennel fronds)
  • flaky sea salt for sprinkling


Place the swordfish in a snug-fitting baking dish and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the crushed garlic. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat a grill pan to a medium-high heat. Remove the swordfish from the marinade and grill, turning once, until cooked to your liking, about 2-3 minutes per side for medium to medium rare.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the herbs to coat them in the vinaigrette.

Slice the swordfish and arrange it on the plates. Drizzle with the herb dressing and sprinkle all with the flaky sea salt.

Gamberi Fra Diavolo

Courtesy of Daniel Paterna, from his book: Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn-Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family


  • 1 lb capellini pasta
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 lb plum tomatoes with juice, diced
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • chopped parsley


Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add some salt and cook the capellini until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water.

In the meantime, place the diced tomatoes with their juice into a food processor and pulse for five seconds. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the shrimp and sear on both sides. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Place the minced garlic into the skillet and sauté for 2 minutes slightly golden. Add the red pepper flakes, tomatoes, oregano and salt. Bring everything to a quick simmer. Return the seared shrimp to the skillet and simmer for a minute, then turn off the flame. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, toss well. Add parsley and slowly add pasta water until the desired consistency is reached. Serve with the shrimp on top.

Insalata di Baccala e Peperoni

Courtesy of Daniel Paterna, from his book: Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn-Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family


  • 2 lb salt cod, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 4 lb red bell peppers, cored and sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp fresh chopped parsley


Rinse the cod from its initial salt and place in a container. Fill the container with water to cover the fish and cover tightly. Place the container in the refrigerator. The water should be changed at least twice per day for 3 to 4 days to remove the salt. To test, place your index finger into the center of a piece of the fish, it should not taste overly salty. After soaking the cod, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.

Fill a six-quart pot with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium and add half of the fish to the water, boiling for about 5 minutes or until it looks flaky. Remove the fish using a slotted spoon and place in a large strainer. Add the remaining pieces of the fish to the boiling water and cook in the same manner. Set the strainer aside to allow the fish to cool.

Once the cod is cool enough to handle, remove the bones and as much of the skin as you can. Arrange the fish, skin-side down, on a flat platter. Cover with wax paper and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the peppers and garlic and fry until the peppers are tender and begin to caramelize. Remove from the heat and cool. Remove the wax paper from the platter and spoon the peppers over the fish. Add parsley and serve.