It seems the only time “fishes” is an acceptable word is on Christmas Eve, when Italians honor the tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, or as they say in the old country, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.
Italians eat seven fish in honor of the seven sacraments. The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the medieval Catholic tradition of refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products on Fridays and specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Italian Catholics would instead eat fish, often fried in olive oil. Today, Italians maintain this tradition by preparing seven seafood dishes in a variety of ways. When waves of immigrants made their way from Italy to America, they brought their cherished traditions with them too; the Feast of the Seven Fishes among them.
Featured are recipes for seven Italian seafood dishes for your Christmas Eve dinner. Just add a few vegetable side dishes and a tasty dessert, surround yourself with family and friends and enjoy.
Vongole e Fagioli over Linguine from Campania
- About 1 lb manila clams
- 1 lb. cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- pinch of hot red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup white wine
- about 2 cups cooked cannellini beans (undrained)
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 8 basil leaves, torn
- 1 lb linguine
Heat a very wide pan over a very high heat until it smokes. Combine the clams, tomatoes, garlic, pepper flakes and oil in a bowl. If your pan is not wide enough to hold them all in more or less a single layer, omit the clams for now and add them after the tomatoes have fried for a couple of minutes. Once the pan is very hot, add the bowlful of ingredients all at once.
Cook, shaking the pan from time to time until a few of the clams pop open. Season with pepper and a tiny bit of salt and add the wine. Let it bubble for a minute, then add the cannellini beans and parsley. Boil until the beans are hot through and the last of the clams have popped open – not very long. Stir in the basil and serve over linguine
Baccalà alla Vicentina from Veneto
- 2 lb dried baccalà
- 1 lb onion, finely chopped
- 4-5 anchovy fillets
- handful of parsley, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 7 oz freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
Begin by soaking the baccalà in water for at least 12 hours, changing the water several times. Prepare the soffritto by sweating an ample amount of finely chopped onion (about half as much as the fish by weight) in olive oil until soft. Season with some salt and pepper and add the anchovy fillets and a handful of chopped parsley. As soon as the anchovies have ‘melted’ into the soffritto, turn off the heat.
Dry the baccalà and preheat the oven to 300°F. Cut the fish into square pieces and dredge in flour. Spread some soffritto onto the bottom of a casserole dish and lay the pieces of baccalà over in a single layer. Spread the rest of the soffritto on top of the baccalà.
Pour over enough milk to just barely cover the fish pieces. Then sprinkle the top with grated Parmigiano cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 300°F for three hours. Shake the pan periodically to avoid the bottom burning. Cook until the fish is very tender and serve with soft polenta.
Pesce Spada al Cartoccio (Swordfish in a Paper Bag) from Umbria
- 4 lbs fillets of swordfish, skin on (twelve 4-oz pieces)
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced (1⁄4” thick) lengthwise
- 12 slices lemon, 1⁄4” thick, seeds removed
- ½ pound pitted black olives, roughly chopped
- ½ cup tightly packed fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place a fish fillet, skin side down, in the center of a piece of parchment paper. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Place 1 fennel slice, 2 lemon slices, 3 or 4 olive pieces, and 3 or 4 parsley leaves on top of the fillet and drizzle with about 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Season another fillet with a pinch each of salt and pepper and lay it on top of the first one, skin side up.
To fold the fish packet, bring the longer edges of the paper together above the fillets. Holding the edges together, make a 1-inch fold downward, doubling the bottom edge over the top one. Continue folding in this manner, doubling the folded edges down, until the paper is fairly snug on top of the fillets. Smooth the packet down to the right and left sides of the fillets. Then give each side a firm, full twist to pinch and secure the packet at both ends. Pull the left and right twisted ends up to seal the packet. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have 6 packets.
Place the fish packets on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 30 min, until the parchment is slightly golden brown around the edges. Place each fish packet on a plate, serve and open at the table, taking care with the escaping steam as the packets are opened.
Farfalle con Tonno e Capperi (Farfalle with Tuna and Capers) from Sicily
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 lb fresh tuna (you may also use 3-5oz cans of Italian tuna, packed in oil, drained and flaked)
- 1 lb dried farfalle
- 1 tbsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 3 tbsp capers
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cook pasta in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.
While pasta is boiling, cook remaining garlic in oil in a small heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute Remove from heat. Toss pasta in a large bowl with tuna, ½ cup reserved cooking water, zest, juice, garlic and oil, capers, parsley and salt and pepper to taste (add remaining ½ cup cooking water as needed if pasta seems dry).
Insalata di Frutta di Mare (Seafood Salad) from Calabria
- 3 cups white wine
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 lemons
- 1 lb calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
- 1 lb medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined
- 1 lb scallops
- 3 cups cooked octopus cut into 2 in pieces
- 1 cup black olives
- 1 ½ cups chopped celery
- 2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- dash red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
In a stockpot, combine 3 quarts of water, the wine, bay leaves and crushed garlic. Slice the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the mixture. Drop the lemons into the pot, then bring the mixture first to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low.
First cook the shrimp for 2 minutes and remove from the pot. Cook the calamari 1 ½ minutes and remove from the pot as well. If you are cooking scallops, cook in the same manner for 2 minutes. Mix the seafood together and set aside. If you are cooking octopus, add it to the pot and cook it for 45 minutes to an hour or until it is tender. Remove it from the pot and let it cool. Remove the skin and suckers and cut it into bite sized pieces. Mix the octopus with the other ingredients.
Place the seafood in a bowl and add the chopped celery. Add the dressing ingredients and mix well. Cover and let marinade a minimum of 12 hours in the refrigerator. Just before serving, adjust the seasonings and add the black olives. Serve at room temperature.
Cozze Fra Diavolo (Mussels in Spicy Red Sauce) from Naples
- 4 lbs mussels
- 1 cup wine
- 1/3 cup lemon juice, from 3 to 4 lemons
- About 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, finely diced
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- 3 to 4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 32 oz canned Italian crushed tomatoes
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 bunch, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- sea salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 lemons, sliced in wedges
- crusty Italian bread, for dipping
Preheat an oven to 375ºF.
Clean the mussels under running water, discarding any with broken shells. Trim the “beard” from the side. In a sauté pan large enough to hold all the mussels in one layer, add the mussels, wine and lemon juice. Cover and steam over medium heat until almost all the mussels have opened, about 10 minutes. Discard any that haven’t opened. Strain the liquid and set it and the mussels aside, separately.
In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the onions and celery and cook until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 ½ cups of the mussel cooking liquid, oregano and 1/3 of the chopped parsley. Turn the heat to high. Keep the heat high until it starts to boil, then turn the heat down to medium and cook another 10 minutes, reducing a bit. The sauce should be quite dense. If it’s too dense, add more of the mussel cooking liquid. Add the mussels and reheat. Taste and add more salt if needed, plenty of freshly ground pepper and the remaining parsley.
To serve, place a crostini at the bottom of each of 4 individual bowls. Spoon the mussels into the four bowls, distributing them evenly. Pour sauce over mussels. Add three crostini to each bowl and lemon wedges if desired.
Roasted Lobster with Breadcrumbs from Sardinia
- 2 live lobsters, 1 ½ lb. each, or as many as you need
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 anchovy fillet, finely chopped
- A pinch of hot red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup Marsala wine
- Lemon wedges
Fry the breadcrumbs and garlic in 3 tablespoons of the oil until very lightly browned (stir continuously so it won’t burn). Add the anchovy and pepper flakes for the last 30 seconds, then take off the heat and add two-thirds of the parsley and the Marsala wine to moisten the mixture.
Kill the lobsters. Numb them for 10 minutes in the freezer, then split them in half down the middle. Open them out like butterflies (cut-side up) on a large baking sheet. Cover the lobsters (heads and tails) with breadcrumbs, spreading them evenly and pressing down lightly. Drizzle with the remaining oil and bake in an oven preheated to maximum. The lobsters will be done in a matter of 12-14 minutes, by which time the breadcrumbs should have browned on top in all but the feeblest of ovens. They do not need to be dark, but if they look too light use the grill for a minute or so.
Serve the lobsters sprinkled with the remaining parsley and a lemon wedge or two over a lightly dressed salad.