This year was our sixth Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes with this enthusiastic and stalwart group of friends...
and these, their children...
I love these people not just because they are lovely, smart, generous, and fun, and therefore excellent company, but also because they are...good eaters. Yep. No picky eaters in this group. They "ooo" and "aaah" over everything I serve, and gobble it all up.
For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a quick lesson...
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is the Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve. According to the internets: "The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence." We're supposed to be fasting on the eve of a holy day (Christmas) by not eating meat, only fish. Just like eating fish on Fridays during Lent. Why seven? Nobody's sure, except that it's a...bibley number - seven days of Creation, seven sacraments. You get it.
While I am not Italian by blood, I have whole-heartedly adopted this tradition from Jimmy's family. We never really had a traditional Christmas dinner growing up, Mama liked to mix it up - a turkey, a standing rib roast, a ham. So when I first experienced a big Italian Christmas Eve feast, it was a huge "aha!" moment. This was the feast for me!
From what I know, every Italian-American family has a different version of The Feast. Mommy says you don't really have to cook seven fishes. It could be whatever you want. She does the same dishes every year (well, she used to, I'm afraid she has now retired herself from the big meal preparation) - shrimp scampi, linguini with crab sauce, Alaskan King crab legs cooked in marinara sauce, and flounder stuffed with crab.
It's DELICIOUS, but I love the fun of mixing it up and the challenge of preparing seven dishes. The menu is different every year, but I sometimes repeat a dish from previous years if it was a favorite. The menu this year was...drumroll...
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
The Barefoot Contessa's recipe HERE. Super easy, but infinitely better than just the usual old boiled shrimp cocktail.
NOTE: The shrimp were the only dish from The Feast that the children were actually allowed to consume. The kids are all fed at a table in the office - they get pasta and fish sticks. This was completely acceptable when they were five years old, but now they've pretty much outgrown the office and the fish sticks. It's a concern. But I'll think about that...tomorrow. Fiddle dee dee.
Steamed Mussels with Sausages and Fennel
Really good. The broth was delicious, so I served it with a crusty baguette to sop up the juice.
This is a recipe that serves six as a main course, but I halved it since it was just one of many courses. I could have made more, they ate every bite.
2 lbs. sweet or hot Italian sausage (I used sweet)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large fresh fennel bulbs, sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
3 cups dry white wine
6 lbs. fresh mussels, cleaned and debearded
chopped Italian parsley
In the biggest pot you can find...brown the sausages in olive oil. Remove from the pot and set aside. Add fennel and saute until softened. Add garlic and red pepper and stir for about a minute. Add the wine, cover and simmer until fennel is soft, about 10 minutes. Slice the sausages into 1 inch chunks. Add mussels and sausage to the pot, cover and simmer until the mussels have opened, about 5 minutes. Serve in a big bowl with bread to soak up the juice.
Tuna Crudo with Lemon Vinaigrette
Crudo is basically the Italian version of sashimi, and focuses on simple, fresh ingredients. Recipe is HERE. It's very tasty. You must get good, sashimi-quality tuna. It's not cheap.
Octopus Carpaccio with Arugula, Shaved Fennel and Satsuma Salad
This is the second year I've made this, and I'm afraid it wasn't as good this year. Peculiarly, last year I overcooked the octopus, and it was delicious. This year, I cooked it according to the recipe, and it was tough. So...whatever. I'm not even going to give you the recipe, because I know that none of you will EVER make it (if you really want it, feel free to message me and I'll get it to you). It involves cooking octopus then pressing it into a mold and then cutting it into a salami-like dish. But here's a picture...
Frutti di Mare (Mixed Seafood Pasta)
I don't have an actual recipe for this. I basically just make a marinara sauce then add in the seafood and let it sit for a day or two so the sauce takes on the rich taste of the seafood. You can put in pretty much any kind of seafood you want. The only thing you have to be careful about is the order in which in you add the seafood and how long you cook each addition - kind of use your judgment. This year I used crab legs, scallops, squid and clams, but you could also add shrimp or fish (something firm, maybe halibut or cod, cut into 1-inch chunks) or whatever looks good to you. I prep the crab the way Mommy taught me - steam the legs in a pot with a lid for a few minutes until you sweat out the extra liquid. If you don't, your sauce will be runny. After the sauce is pretty much cooked, toss in the fish that needs to cook the longest (squid, fish) and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Then add whatever needs to cook less time (shrimp, scallops). Finally, add whatever has already been cooked (crab legs), warm through then turn off the heat. After it has cooled, stick in the fridge until you're ready to serve it. When you're ready to go, heat the sauce while you boil the water for your pasta. When you have it bubbling, toss in the clams (or mussels if you want), cover and steam until the shells have popped. Discard any that don't open. Serve over pasta. Yum.
Orange Roughy Oreganata
A hearty peasant dish. Easy to make. You could use any kind of soft, white fish. I used the roughy because it looked good at the fish market, but tilapia would be good.
4 fresh fish fillets
2 cloves garlic
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
1 cup bread crumbs (fresh or Panko are best)
1/2 cup (or more) grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano or 2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
4 tbsp. melted butter
Make roasted garlic - Remove papery bits around the cloves, but don't peel. Place the garlic cloves in some aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, then wrap the foil tightly around the cloves. Place in the oven or toaster oven at 400 degrees for about 20 to 30 minutes. When they're roasted, you can squeeze the soft garlic out of their peels.
Make crumb mixture - In small bowl, mix bread crumbs, Parmesan, oregano and garlic powder.
Rub the outside of the fish with the roasted garlic - the garlic will melt right into the fish. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a roasting dish, then add the fish fillets. Pour wine over fish into pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lightly pack the crumb mixture over the fish. Drizzle with melted butter.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Fish will be flaky and crumbs should be nicely browned.
Serve with lots of lemon slices.
Petrale Sole with Warm Pine Nut Dressing, Wilted Greens and Fennel Puree
While the roughy was peasant food, this was much more sophisticated. And I must say, it was really quite good. It sounds a little complicated, but it was easy to get prepped ahead of time, and then just sear the sole at the last minute. Again, you could use any kind of soft, white fish.
1 fennel bulb, cut into thin wedges
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup plus 2 tsps. olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup pine nuts
5 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
4 fish fillets
2 ounces baby greens (I used baby kale)
Make fennel puree - Place fennel and 5 of the garlic cloves on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil. Fold the foil into a packet and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Transfer the fennel and garlic to the food processor, puree and season with salt and pepper.
Make pine nut dressing - In a small bowl, place dried porcini. Cover with boiling water and soak for 20 minutes. Drain and save the mushroom broth. You won't need to use the mushrooms here, but don't throw them away - they'd make a great omelette. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tbsp. oil. Add the pine nuts and the remaining 1 clove garlic and cook over moderate heat until the nuts are golden, about 3 minutes. Add the porcini liquid and balsamic and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Discard the garlic clove. Add 4 tbsp. oil and season with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tsp. oil in a large skillet. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Sear the fish fillets in the pan until cooked through, flipping once.
Spread the fennel puree on a serving plate (or on individual plate). Top with fish fillet. Drizzle with 3/4 of the dressing. Add the greens to the remaining dressing in the skillet, and warm until wilted. Mound the greens on the fish and serve.
Mexican Hot Chocolate Trifle
Oh good God this was good! I love a good trifle. And I love Mexican Hot Chocolate. So how could this go wrong? The recipe is out of Southern Living magazine's Christmas issue (my dear Cousin Keith gives me a subscription every year and I pour over every issue). You can find it HERE. It's amazing layers of moist chocolate cake, chocolate ganache and marshmallow cream. And you serve it with some of the ganache warmed up as a hot fudge sauce!
NOTE ONE: This is pretty complicated. The cake takes forever. HOWEVER...don't wimp out and make a simpler cake! It's super rich and moist and full of cinnamony goodness.
NOTE TWO: It wasn't until I got to the assembly point in the recipe that I read the part that said "Makes 15 to 20 servings". Which is ridiculous. I actually froze an entire cake layer.
So that's it. This year's Feast of the Seven Fishes. At the end of the night we went around the table and everybody reminisced about their favorite dishes over the last several years. I have written these down, and next year? A "Best of" year. Should be good!
Hope everybody's Christmas was very merry!