The BEST ITALIAN COOKBOOK
For The ITALIAN CHRISTMAS
FEAST of The SEVEN FISHES
For CHRISTMAS 2022
THE FEAST of THE 7 FISH
by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
My Aunt Helen used to make the famous Italian Christmas Eve Dinner, “The Feast of 7 Fishes,” The 7 Fish of the Seven Sacraments. I know she made it because I used to hear her talking about it when I was a little kid. Although I shared many wonderful meals with my dear Aunt Helen, I never had the pleasure of having the famous Christmas Eve Dinner “La Vigilia” Feast of Seven Fish with her. We always had Christmas Eve dinner with the immediate family and Aunt Helen had the Christmas Eve with her brother and sister and other family members. Aunt Helen was born in Salerno, Italy and was my Uncle Franks (1 of my Mother’s 3 brothers) better half. So for our Christmas Dinner my mother would make an Antipasto of Salami, Provolone, Peppers, and Olives, followed by Baked Ziti and a Baked Ham studded with cloves and Pineapple rings.
The first time I ever had the mystical dinner was about 12 years ago with my cousin Joe, his family and my girlfriend Duyen.
So Joe asked me if I wanted to make this festive and all important dinner, to perform the ceremony. He didn’t need to ask twice. I had never made it before and was dying to do so. For a long time I had yearned to partake in this celebrated old Southern Italian Ritual, and this was my chance. Naturally I was excited, so was Joe.
And what for the menu? I know Aunt Helen made Bacala, Shrimp Oreganata, Mussels, Baked Clams, Calamari, Octopus, and eel, all much Loved Southern Italian (especially Napoli and Sicily) Creatures of the Sea. We decided which fish we wanted and how to cook each one. Much thought and planning went into the menu and its execution. Joe wanted; Langoustines, Lobster, and Bacala. Alexandra asked if I would make Stuffed Calamari. We also decided on Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Clams Oreganata, and Cozze al Posillipo. The menu was set. Duyen helped me with the Calamari which we stuffed with Shrimp, parsley, breadcrumbs, and Peas. We braised the Calamari with tomato, White Wine, and herbs, and if I must say so myself, the Calamari came out superbly. The Stuffed Calamari were a lot of work to make, but well worth the effort as they were a huge hit with all. The Macari boys, Joey, Edward, and Tommy, as well as sister Gabriella, Alex, Joe, Duyen, Jose and Sergio from Barcelona were all in attendance.
The Mussels Posillipo were cooked with garlic, white wine, parsley, and tomato. The sauce is great to dip your bread into. This dish was one of my mother’s favorites back in the days when few Americans other than those of Italian origins ever ate these wonderful little bivalves. Now-a-days every-body does. As a young boy I remember my mother sending me to Bella Pizza in East Rutherford to get an order of them for her. She always gave me a few and I have Loved them ever since.
Joe helped me to cook the Langoustines. They are hard to find and I had to order a ten-pound box from Silvano in order to get them.
The Lobsters we prepared the best way possible, the New England way, steamed and served simply with drawn butter and lemon wedges. There’s nothing better on Earth, well except for Sunday Sauce of course.
The stuffed calamari took care of two of the seven the shrimp that were stuffed into the squid.
The second course (Primi) of Linguine Frutti de Mare consumed four of the Seven Fish required for the meal. It consisted of Mussels, Clams, Lobster, and Scallops cooked with garlic, oil, herbs, and just a touch of tomato.
The seventh and final fish was fresh Cod that I roasted and served with a sweet and sour onion sauce (Bacala Fresca Agro Dolce). Everybody went bananas for it especially cousin Joe who raved at each and every dish I put down. It’s a pleasure cooking for Joe as his passion for eating and for the Italian American way of life, the food, the wine, the rituals.
It makes cooking a joy rather than a chore. When cooking for family or friends, you give two of life’s great gifts, a tasty Home-Cooked meal combined with a little bit of Love. Scratch that. “A whole lotta Love!”
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