Classic Italian Christmas Eve means fish, fish and more fish
July 15, 2018 | 84° | Check Traffic

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Classic Italian Christmas Eve means fish, fish and more fish

  • CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA

    Seafood became traditional on Christmas Eve because custom banned the serving of red meat in the days leading up to the holiday.

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For a holiday so widely celebrated, the traditions surrounding Christmas are as unique as the ornaments that decorate your tree. From decor and songs to what’s on the table, Christmas looks a little bit different in every home across the world.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American tradition to ring in Christmas Eve, when Roman Catholics celebrate the midnight birth of Jesus, known in Italian as “La Viglia.”

Though today the feast is commonly referred to as the “seven fishes,” the origin of that number is unclear, and in fact, many Italian and American homes may serve upward of 10 dishes to celebrate the feast. Recipes vary from region to region, but common ingredients can include salted cod, calamari and shellfish, which may be stewed, fried, sauteed, or even raw. Of course, you’re likely to find a pasta dish in the mix.

This can lead to a long day in the kitchen, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. If you want to celebrate Christmas Eve the Italian way, try this quick and easy Seven Fishes Sauce recipe.

This simple sauce is a traditional mix of aromatic ingredients, white wine, and fish broth that will lightly coat the fish(es) and pasta. For our main ingredients, we’ve chosen the seafood heavy hitters: crab, shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, scallops and white fish. You can serve the shellfish in their shells for a dramatic presentation, or serve them shucked for a more user- friendly experience.

Depending on where you live, your fish markets may be buzzing in anticipation of the holiday, but don’t be tempted to secure your catch too early. Your ingredients should be as fresh as possible, kept cold and over ice, if your refrigerator is especially crowded. Make sure you give your clams and mussels some breathing room if they came packed in plastic.

While we’ve added it to the Christmas Eve menu, you can use this recipe as a base for weeknight dinners all year long. Add Thai-style aromatics to the broth, like ginger and lemon grass, and a squeeze of lime juice for a Tom Yum-style broth. Or, during the summer, add chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro and some hot chilies for a Latin flair.

We like serving this sauce over pasta (because everything is better with pasta), but you will also love it over polenta, roasted vegetables or potatoes, or steamed rice. You can even serve it on its own with crusty bread for dipping.

Depending on how you serve it, this can be a decadent first course or satisfying entree, but we think however you fill your table, your guests will be lucky to share a “buon Natale” with you and your loved ones.

Seven Fishes Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups clam broth
  • 2 cups fish stock
  • 12 shrimp (21/25 count), heads and tails on, if desired
  • 1/4 pound of squid, tubes and tentacles, tubes sliced into 1/4-inch rings
  • 1-1/2 pounds small clams
  • 1 pound mussels, cleaned
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops
  • 1 pound king crab legs, cracked into 6 portions (or 1/4 pound lump crab meat)
  • 1/4 pound white-flesh fish
  • 1/2 cup diced Roma tomatoes
  • 1 pound linguine, cooked, for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Sliced pickled peppers, for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in pot over medium. Add garlic, pepper flakes and anchovies, if using. Cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add wine and cook until reduced by about half, 5 minutes. Add clam broth and fish stock and bring to light simmer.

Add shrimp, squid, clams, mussels and scallops; slowly poach until seafood is firm and mussels open, 5 minutes.

Add crab, fish and tomatoes; cook gently, lowering heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until firm, 3 minutes. Take care not to overcook fish, or it will flake apart when served.

Remove from heat and ladle over pasta. Garnish with parsley and peppers, if using, and drizzle with olive oil before serving. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 624 calories, 9 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 170 mg cholesterol, 1,637 mg sodium, 69 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 59 g protein

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