Friday, December 24, 2010

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Clay pot clam bake
This Christmas Eve we decided to attempt the feast of the seven fishes (festa dei sette pesci), a traditional Sicilian meal. It is based on the Catholic tradition of the La Vigilia di Natale, the Vigil of the Holy Night, where some Catholics abstain from eating meat. 

I think the seven fishes correlates to the seven Sacraments in the Catholic Church.[i] However, seven is an important number in other contexts--- the seven virtues[ii]; the seven hills of Rome; seven gifts of the Holy Spirit[iii]; and the seven utterance on the cross. Some Italian-American families have 9, 12, or 13 different seafood/fishes.

The meal consists of whatever is fresh where you live and your means. The "traditional" items I came across were:  eel, smelts, salted cod (baccalà), linguine with clams (Linguine con le Vongole-- one of my favorite all time dishes), calamari, and anchovies.

I am quite excited about the meal. I am also slightly anxious-- it is a lot of work and several of the recipes I have not made before. Thankfully, I am making three of my favorites dishes (Caesar salad, clam bake, and cheesecake).

Here is what we have planned:
  • Cheese antipasti (to snack on all day long); 
  • Caesar salad (with anchovies) (recipe below)
  • Clam bake with clams, scallops, and shrimp cooked in a clay pot (recipe below- adapted from The Clay Pot Cookbook by Georgia MacLeod Sales and Grover Sales); 
  • Salt cod in tomato caper sauce[iv];
  •  Lobster tail (see preparation below); 
  • Crab ravioli in a lemon butter caper sauce[v];  
  •  Italian cheese cake; and 
  •  to top it all off we plan to have a mint (it's wafer thin....).
Caesar Salad
Steven usually makes the Caesar salad which frees me up to stress over last minute details. Here is the recipe---

Mash together one tablespoon of anchovy paste, 3 cloves of garlic (minced), and two teaspoons of champagne mustard. Then add the juice of one third of a lemon and salt and pepper and mix; slowly add two tablespoons of olive oil. Toss cut up romaine lettuce with the dressing-- adjust salt and pepper and then add shredded Parmesan cheese to taste. Prior to serving add croutons.

Caesar salad
Clam Bake
The first crisis was no clams. I went to Whole Foods yesterday to check that they would have clams today. I was assured that they would. This morning-- bright and early--- I went to Whole Foods to buy the seafood and no clams. Whole Foods did some wonderful service recovery and gave me mussels as a substitute (for free). So I guess this is a mussels bake??? 

The mussel bake is really easy- first soak your clay pot for 20 minutes and then put the following into the pot (in order)---

Clay pot clam bake
Sliced onion (one onion thinly sliced); mussels (8 oz/227 g), shrimp (1 lb/454 g shells on), scallops (8 oz/ 227 g), squeeze the juice of one lemon over the seafood and then either zest the lemon and add the zest or slice the lemon and add it, 1/4 cup (125 ml) white wine, 5 cloves of garlic (whole), fresh parsley, fresh thyme, and red pepper (we used a hot lemon pepper instead of red pepper), salt, and pepper to taste. Place in a cold oven and set oven to 450 F/ 232 C. Cook for 40 minutes. Serve with bread.  Note-- sometimes I add a piece of study fish to the mixture, clams, clam juice, lobster and/or crab. Also I add whatever fresh herbs I have-- oregano, basil, thyme, ect.... Also don't forget to rinse and dry your seafood before you put it in the pot.
Mussel bake

Lobster Tail
We had frozen lobster tails and thawed them in the refrigerator overnight. We cut the shell down the middle and added butter, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. We baked the lobster tails in a 350 F/ 177C/ Gas Mark 4 oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
Baking lobster tails
Crab Ravioli

The stuffed ravioli- much easier using wonton wrappers
I cheated with the crab ravioli- not only did I make them in the morning and put them in the refrigerator-- I also used fresh wonton wrappers. It wasn't as good as fresh pasta-- but it was quick and easy (I was really worried about the timing). I  also rinsed and drained the capers (to get rid of the brine taste). I thought the lemon butter caper sauce was wonderful and complimented the crab.
Finished raviolis


I made the tomato sauce in the morning so it would be ready and I could just heat it up and cook the fish when the dinner was almost ready. We grow hot pepper each summer and dry them-- so we used a combination of hot pepper for the sauce. I think it makes a difference. I really liked the sauce-- the combination of slightly sweet onions with the capers and hot pepper is addictive and we will be making it again.
Dried peppers ready to be ground
Freshly ground and ready to add to the sauce!

[i] They are: Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Marriage.
[ii] They are: faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice.
[iii] They are: counsel, fortitude, knowledge, understanding, piety, wisdom, and fear of the Lord.

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