Seven Fishes Italian Christmas Feast

For a change of pace that fits the festivities of the season, try the Italian tradition called The Feast Of The Seven Fishes Dinner.  This a large, family style-meal that generally takes place on Christmas Eve. 

Start the meal with an antipasto platter.  This can include Italian cold-cuts such as salame, mortadella or prosciutto.  Cheese is another important component, be sure to include a good mozzarella and a sharper cheese such as pecorino.  Other great appetizers for the antipasto could be olives, pickles, giardinella, artichoke hearts and more.

No Seven Fishes feast would be complete without a pasta dish.  However, the meal is about the seafood, so the pasta should not overshadow those dishes.  Perhaps a great lasagne, or homemade linguine with a clam sauce would be a great addition without taking away from the seafood.

Te star of the show is the seven seafoods.  This might include crab legs, shrimp dishes, shellfish such as clams, oysters or mussels and seasonal fish that can be baked, fried or steamed.  The type of seafood served is up to the cook and as to what types of seafood are freshly available, but the most traditional of these dishes is baccala.

Every family has a different recipe and of course, their recipe is the best, but they don’t want to share it with you!  What follows is a good starter recipe, take it and make it your own by changing out or tweaking some of the ingredients.  Some cooks add raisins for sweetness, some sauté red bell peppers along with the onions, or toss in capers for added twang.

Baccala

4 pounds salt cod

2 pounds potatoes

2-3 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion,  diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

½ c olive oil

1 c good quality Italian olives, coarsely chopped

3 cans tomatoes

1 tsp oregano

Salt, crushed red pepper to taste

Chop the salt cod into good-sized chunks, two to three inches.  Place in a dish and cover with water, place in the fridge.  Once every twelve hours, pour off the water and add fresh, making sure the fish is covered.  Continue to do so for at least three days, or until a small sample of the fish no longer tastes salty.

On the day of, peel and cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until partially done, ten or fifteen minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil, and cook the onions and celery until the vegetables are soft and the onion begins to caramelize.  Stir in the garlic and spices.  Hand crush the tomatoes, add to the vegetables along with the olives, allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Layer the potatoes, fish and sauce in a casserole, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 oven.

Serve over pasta and/or a good, thick bread to sop up the juices.

Finish the meal with a good strong coffee or liqueurs and an array of desserts. Fresh fruits and cheeses are a good meal-ender.   Pizelle cookies are a nice Italian touch and not too heavy after such an indulgent meal.


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