As a kid, I had no idea that eating seafood on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve) was an Italian -American tradition known as “The Feast of the Seven Fishes”; I just thought people everywhere ate a seafood bonanza the night before Christmas. I lived (quite a sheltered life, apparently) in an Italian neighborhood, so I really had no reason to think otherwise. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and got to junior high school did I realize that there was a whole other world out there, full of people who ate fancy roast beef dinners, dined in restaurants or (gasp!) just ate a regular ol' meal for Christmas Eve. But not in our house, oh no: My nana would spend all day cooking and preparing a literal feast of fishes: shrimp, scallops, calamari (squid), bacala (salt cod) and clams oreganata, along with a pound of macaroni, usually vermicelli. Not quite seven fishes, but close enough.
An Italian - American Christmas Eve: Feast Of The Seven Fishes (A Collection Of Delicious Seafood Recipes)
What Is The Feast Of The Seven Fishes?
According to Chef Mario Batali, "It's what Italians do when they say they're fasting." (I’m sorry, did he just say “Italians” and “fasting” in the same sentence???). I guess it’s true to some extent: In the southern region of Italy (where my family is from), the day is spent not eating much in anticipation of the “feast”, and traditionally no meat is ever eaten that day. In keeping with tradition, we don't eat much but a tuna sandwich or grilled cheese for lunch.
"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." I’ve also heard that some believe that The Feast of Seven Fishes represent the seven days of creation and others believe it represents Mary and Joseph’s seven day travel to Bethlehem. But honestly, do Italians ever really need a reason to mangia?
The Tradition Continues
As time went on and I got married and had a family of my own, I kept up with the La Vigilia tradition but I've broadened my culinary horizons quite a bit. My grandmother fried those shrimp and scallops and put the squid in her g̶r̶a̶v̶y̶ sauce because that’s what everybody liked. Now I change things up here and there and love try new seafood and recipes.
Here’s what’s on my menu this Christmas Eve. As you can see, I'm not making seven fishes this year, especially with a picky eater in the house. So Feast of the Four Fishes it is, folks, and I promise you it will be just as good. I hope you’ll give these recipes a try. They are delish, full of flavor and couldn't be any simpler to prepare.
Oh and before I forget! Una cena senza vino e come un giorno senza sole! That means "a day without wine is a day without sunshine". I'd suggest pairing these dishes with a good white wine or chardonnay: Belfiore Chardonnay Trevenezie I.G.T. or Cantina Di Solopaca Fiano would be perfecto!
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Sheet Pan Lemon-Garlic Shrimp
This sauce is lemony, garlicy and wine-y. Feel free to add more or less garlic, but as every Italian knows, there's no such thing as too much garlic!
Easy Broiled Lobster Tails
This recipe is so simple, all you really need is a broiler and a good pair of kitchen shears. Let the tasty, tender lobster meat be the star of this recipe.
Linguine With Red Clam Sauce
This is my super simple red clam sauce. It basically has three ingredients, plus garlic and some spices. Feel free to add whole, steamed clams to the sauce before serving, if you'd like!
Chef's Note: I use a jar marinara sauce as my base for the clam sauce. Specifically, I use Rao’s, because it's the closest to the real thing ::ducking from the nonnas:: Check out the full list of ingredients:
Tricolore Swordfish With Lemon Pepper Sauce
I like one meaty fish on the table at Christmas Eve, and I trade off between swordfish, tuna and salmon. This recipe for swordfish includes a sauce and garnish that is flavorful, and complements the fish perfectly.
What are some of you holiday meal traditions? I'd love to hear about them--let me know in the comments below!