A Feast of Seven Fishes

A Feast of Seven Fishes

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An Italian Christmas Eve – My Memories

I come from an Italian family with roots in Southern Italy (Calabria) on my father’s side and Genoa in the north on my mother’s side. We always celebrated Christmas Eve around a large table of family and friends before going to midnight mass.

For an Italian family, Christmas Eve is all about fish. No meat is served at this meal being reserved for the Christmas Day celebration.

The Christmas Eve Dinner is known as the Feast of Seven Fishes although it is not uncommon to serve nine, eleven or more types of fish.  The celebration commemorates “La Vigilia di Natale” or the wait for the midnight birth of baby Jesus.

The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence – in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products – on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as during Lent and on the eve of specific holy days.

The significance of the number “7” has many theories.  It took God 7 days to create the Earth; there are 7 hills surrounding Rome; there are 7 sacraments and 7 deadly sins; 7 is the most used number in the Bible appearing over 700 times; the Biblical number for divinity is three and the Earth is four and the combination of the two makes 7.

These are my memories of my Grandmother’s Christmas Eve dinner:

We always began with a large antipasto comprising, for example, of marinated and raw vegetables, octopus salad, fresh anchovies, tuna, cheeses and olives.  This was followed by a seafood bisque or chowder. Next we had broccoli rabe drowned in olive oil with garlic accompanied by a poached salmon.  No meal would be complete without a seafood pasta.  In our case we usually had angel hair with olive oil, basil, homemade tomato sauce, clams, shrimp and scallops.  A baked fish would come next with green beans and a salad which often had another type of cold fish on top.  And dessert would be Panetone, pastries, chocolates and sometimes an ice cream cake.

It sounds like a very big mea. However, each course was a tasting and it was all about the tradition--spending time with family and friends and waiting for midnight mass.


Homemade Tomato Sauce (serves 6-8)

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil       
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 3-4 crushed garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup finely chopped carrots     one quarter
  • ¼ cup finely chopped celery      one quarter
  • Two  35 oz cans of imported peeled Italian tomatoes (San Marzano is my favorite brand)
  • 3 coarsely chopped fresh Roma tomatoes
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons basil (fresh or dried)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Heat the oil in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until transparent, stirring occasionally.  Add the carrots and celery and simmer another 8-10 minutes.  Pour in the peeled canned tomatoes and the coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, red pepper flakes and salt.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until thickened about 1 hour.  Remove the bay leaves and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste.


Angel Hair with Clams, Shrimp and Scallops (serves 6-8)

For the clams:

  • 36 small littleneck clams
  • 3-4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped Italian parsley
  • Sprinkle of white wine

Heat the olive oil in a pan large enough to allow the clams to open and heat over medium heat until the oil is hot.  Add the garlic cloves and sizzle for 2 minutes or so. Add the clams and the parsley and shake the pan.  Sprinkle with white wine, shake, cover and cook over medium low heat until the clams open. It takes from 3-5 minutes. Reserve to complete the pasta.

For the shellfish:

  • 10-12 ounces sea scallops
  • 1 lb of large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil      
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
  • ½  cup prepared tomato sauce from the recipe above   

Heat the sauce over medium heat until it begins to simmer.  Add the shrimp, scallops and chopped Italian parsley and cook until the shrimp turn pink and the scallops are transparent. Approximately 3-4 minutes. Do not overcook.  

Cook the angel hair until it is al dente and toss with enough of the tomato sauce to coat nicely.  I do not like to drown my pasta in sauce. You can always save the leftover sauce for another meal. Place in a large pasta serving bowl

Garnish with the shrimp and scallops on top and place the opened clams all around. Sprinkle with some fresh chopped Italian parsley or basil and serve immediately. You can more sauce as desired.

This dish is not usually served with grated parmesan cheese, but some like it, so it is your choice to offer it or not.

Buon Natale and Bon Appetit!  


About Karen Vaucher

Karen Vaucher is a caterer and owner of Old Stone Market spice company in Harper, TX. She lives on a ranch there, where she raises goats, llamas and chickens. She previously owned French bistros in New York, including Bistro du Nord and Bar du Theatre, which she sold to chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. See the Co-op Cafe for access to Karen's wonderful spices!