For many, Christmas conjures up visions of ham, turkey, eggnog, and cookies. However, for a spoiled few, only one thing comes to mind: fish. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Southern Italian and Italian-American tradition celebrating Christmas Eve. It originated with the Roman Catholics, who abstained from more expensive meat and dairy on certain holy days. With the Mediterranean nearby, seafood was the less expensive option, and a meal that was originally meant to be a partial fast has morphed into an indulgent, seemingly never-ending parade of dishes. It is unclear how the number seven became involved. It may represent the seven sacraments, the seven hills of Rome that surround the city, or a variety of other meanings, all with religious connotations. Some families take things five steps further and serve twelve dishes for the twelve apostles, but we recommend striving for the original number of seven.
Today, there aren’t many rules. You could serve seven seafood courses or one course with seven types of seafood. The main constant is that it is a meal best served with friends and family. The below menu is our representation of an ideal Feast of the Seven Fishes—a couple of appetizers, a salad to cut through the richness, a soup or stew course, then finishing with a variety of entrée courses. We haven’t found a dessert that incorporates seafood (successfully), so we’ll leave that final step to you, but we think espresso would be more than appreciated after this marathon of a meal.
Please your guests and free your hands and mind for other meal prep with this flavorful dip that you can set (on the counter) and forget. This smokey trout dip is lightened up with greek yogurt and pairs perfectly with toasted rye bread. (Recipe and photo: Savory Simple)
Every dinner party needs a stunning appetizer, and these scallops served on the half shell can be yours. White wine, parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs—what else do you really need in life? (Recipe and photo: Cooking Melangery)
The briny saltiness of anchovies combined with the brightness of lemon is the perfect complement to fresh greens. A salad is a great way to cut through the rich, savory dishes that traditionally appear on holiday menus. Use radicchio, celery root, and fennel for a combination that is both beautiful and seasonal. (Recipe and photo: FamilyStyle Food)
Incorporate this American take on an Italian fisherman’s stew into your menu for a lighter course. Any type of seafood—from mussels to cod—works well with the spicy, salty tomato broth, so stick with whatever is freshest. (Recipe and photo: Pineapple and Coconut featured on NoshOn.It )
This stuffed calamari dish is a labor of love, complete with cheese, scallops, shrimp, and a homemade tomato sauce. Polenta offers a creaminess to contrast the zesty sauce and is also a gluten-free alternative to bread or pasta. (Recipe and photo: Art de Fête)
No Italian meal would be complete without a pasta course. Fresh clams take a steam bath in a broth of olive oil, butter, garlic, and white wine before being tossed with linguine and fresh herbs. With just a few ingredients, this traditional recipe lets the seafood be the star. (Recipe and photo: Bite Sized on NoshOn.It)
Impress your guests with the presentation and flavor of whole-roasted fish. Don’t be intimidated—the recipe and preparation are surprisingly simple. Soy sauce may not be typically found in Italian dishes, but when paired with lots of lemon, thyme, and parsley, it adds an umami undertone to a bright, fresh final course. (Recipe and photo: The Woks of Life)