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As Christmas approaches many of you are preparing your Holiday Menus. In my family the menu for Christmas Eve was always more important than the Christmas Day menu.
Christmas Day was very simple with stuffed shells or lasagna, turkey and some vegetable side dishes. The end.
But Christmas Eve was a different story. Christmas Eve was the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or La Vigilia – a day of abstinence.) In the Catholic Church this prohibits the consumption of meat, so La Vigilia was ALL fish, NO meat. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is celebrated in southern Italy from Rome on down and my family comes from Naples and Bari.
Okay, I know you will ask, Why the Seven Fishes?
The number seven is mentioned hundreds and hundreds of times in the Bible.
In my family I was raised that the Seven Fishes represent the “Seven Sacraments” – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance or reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and marriage.
I have also heard many different reasons for the seven fishes and they are as follows:
The Seven Virtues – faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice
The Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride
Seven days it took God to create the world
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgment), fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety (reverence), fear of the Lord (wonder and awe)
The number of days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem
Miracle of the Seven Loaves and Fish – Jesus fed 4,000 people with only seven loaves and fish
The Seven Hills of Rome
So you get the idea, there isn’t one correct answer. It varies by region. To really get you confused, some families insist on 13 fish dishes for Christmas Eve to represent Christ and his 12 Apostles.
We’ll move on….
This has to be my favorite holiday meal all year. I always looked forward to all the fish dishes with such anticipation. Maybe because I would always go fishing with my Dad all the time as a child and as an adult; that is the reason I love fish so much.
Here is a sample of My Christmas Eve Menu and I think I go over the seven fish requirement.
Linguine with Fish sauce (consisting of crabs, clams, mussels, scungilli (conch), shrimp, tuna, calamari (squid), and scallops).
mussels in white wine and butter
and the two most traditional fish dishes
Baccala (dry salted cod fish) with potatoes in a tomato sauce
Sauteed broccoli rabe with LOTS of garlic
tossed green salad
Fruit and nuts – including roasted chestnuts
Variety of Christmas cookies -including pignoli
Italian bow tie cookies topped with honey and sprinkles (similar to Struffoli)– sorry I don’t know the name.
Yes, dinner lasts for hours and hours and every bite is so delicious.
When my husband and I were dating (he is not Italian), his first Christmas Eve with us was very overwhelming. Now, after 30 years, he is accustomed to the menu and all the courses; and he even has a few favorites.
After this huge fish dinner, we went to Midnight Mass, came home to sausage and peppers (you could eat meat after midnight) and then we opened all of our gifts.
Buon Natale !
Recently, I had a request from a DishingwithDiane follower for my recipe for seafood salad, which consists of calamari, shrimp and scallops, octopus is optional.
Many years ago, I found a terrific recipe from Italian Food Forever and have tweaked it over the years and here is the end result. I hope you enjoy it.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a Blessed 2016!
Until my next post, make every day a celebration!
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Seafood Salad – serves 6
3 Cups White Wine
5 Bay Leaves
2 Cloves Garlic, crushed
1 Pound Calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
1 Pound Medium Shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1 Pound Scallops
1 Cup Black Olives
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
3 Large Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 Cup Chopped Parsley
Dash Red Pepper Flakes
Salt & Pepper To Taste
In a stockpot, combine 3 quarts of water, the wine, bay leaves, and crushed garlic. Slice the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the mixture. Drop the lemons into the pot. Bring the mixture first to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium low.
First cook the shrimp, cook 2 minutes and remove from the pot. Cook the calamari 1 ½ minutes and remove from the pot as well. If you are cooking scallops, cook in the same manner for 2 minutes. Mix the seafood together and set aside.
Place the seafood in a bowl and add the chopped celery. Add the dressing ingredients and mix well. Cover and let marinade a minimum of 12 hours. Just before serving, adjust the seasonings, and add the black olives if you are using them. Serve at room temperature.
If you want to include Octopus in this salad, you will need 3 cups cooked Octopus chopped into 2 inch pieces.
If you are cooking octopus, add it to the pot after cooking the scallops (once all the other seafood is removed from the pot), and cook it for about 45 minutes to an hour or until it is tender.
Remove it from the pot and let it cool.
Remove the skin and suckers, and cut it into bite sized pieces.
Mix the octopus with the other ingredients.