Christmas Eve is about tradition. The anticipation for what we know comforts us. There are a few traditions we all seek out each year whether it be attending midnight mass, sitting down to a big family meal, or cuddling by the fire watching Christmas movies. We thrive on the romanticism of tradition.
There is an Italian-American tradition that takes place on Christmas Eve known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s a sit-down, multi-course meal featuring at least 7 kinds of seafood. I believe the only rule is there has to be at least 7 items.
Paint a picture in your mind of the Sopranos. Lots of red wine in little juice glasses spread out on a long banquet table, more food than anyone can possibly consume in a single sitting and a few random outbursts here and there.
I created my own version of this feast that would be spread out over a few hours’ time.
When my guests arrive, I like some nibbles to be already out on displayed. Parmesan crisps and homemade potato chips are topped with crème fraiche and caviar for a light bite that goes wonderfully with a glass of bubbly.
After everyone has settled in and is moving onto their second cocktail, quickly fry a fritto misto of calamari and eggplant. Serve with a glorified tartar sauce and the party is guaranteed to jump up a few notches.
This shrimp scampi gratin gets popped in a hot oven. The combination of butter, garlic and lemon starts to make people crazy! Get everyone seated and start passing these beautiful, buttery, tender shrimp around the table.
Now this is where things get a little tricky. The pasta course is lobster fra diavolo. A spicy, concentrated tomato sauce that is richly flavored with lobster stock and lobster and served over pasta. You can make the sauce ahead and partially cook the lobster tails and when you start to boil the pasta, bring the lobster to a simmer in the sauce to finish cooking and you are in business.
So while you are in the kitchen slightly sweating (I never said being the host of this meal would be easy) in full host(tess) mode, put out the intermezzo of an Italian tuna poke (sort of like tartare) and Limoncello to cleanse the palate after the scampi course. Just a few bites per person is all that is necessary. Something bright, clean and light before you serve the heavy hitters.
And when the lobster fra diavolo is placed on the table and more wine is poured, well…from here on out, things will all be a blur. One big, warm, fuzzy memory.
The final seafood course is roasted branzino stuffed with citrus, rosemary, garlic and fennel. This right here is some of the most incredible fish I have ever had. These simple flavors were intended to be paired with THIS mild, flaky fish.
Stuff the fish before your guests arrive and keep chilled until you finish the lobster fra diavolo. Once the pasta is served, the fish goes into the oven for about 35 minutes. This is the perfect amount of the time to enjoy the pasta and still have a few minutes before this final hurrah.
Words cannot describe this deliciousness…
I love the rustic, organic presentation. My heart is bursting.
I am not sure if you noticed, bread was not served during the meal. I saved it for dessert. Yes, even after all this food there must be dessert.
Panettone bread pudding with brandy sauce IS Christmas. It tastes like Christmas feels. Panettone is a sweet bread, similar to brioche, studded with dried fruits and can be found at Italian markets or bakeries. Lots of eggs and lots of half and half make for the most custardy bread pudding.
After all the food, drinks and storytelling, an espresso or coffee is welcomed. A scoop or two of bread pudding and your Feast of the Seven Fishes has come to an epic end.
It’s Christmas Eve. You sit, you eat and you drink. It’s what you do. You laugh, maybe even cry. As each course is shuffled out of the kitchen, you feel the connection between that room full of people grow stronger. You may not even like some of your family, but you can’t help but love them. You love that they understand the tradition. They understand what your family does on holidays. There is no explanation needed. Well, except for maybe where rest of the Limoncello went…..