As December rolls in, an iconic food celebration approaches: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. You might think of it as the quintessential Italian celebration … and yet, this seafood tradition does not exist on the old continent – it’s a pure product of the Italian American community.
The tradition may come from southern Italy where Christmas eve is known as “the Vigil”. Typically, no meat dishes are served in a show of religious abstinence.
As Southern Italians settled in the United States, the Feast of Fishes tradition slowly came about. Some families celebrated with 10 dishes, others, 13, but the lucky number seven stuck. Like most Italian food traditions, one could say there are as many dish variations as there are cooks – but cod (baccala) and calamari can almost always be found on the table.
Since the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a fairly recent tradition, it hasn’t been heavily codified in cookbooks and food publications. To get to the heart of the subject, we’ve asked our Italian American employees what dishes were served on their holiday table. After reading many scrumptious menus and delicious remembrances, we recreated a few iconic dishes with rough recipe guidelines. We hope these will inspire your store’s hot food bar, catering menus, and your own dining room table.
A light, mouthwatering spread served on Torino Garlic Bruschetta:
Blend sardines, Vantia Mascarpone Cheese, Chives, Smoked Paprika, Lemon Zest and Juice, Garlic and Onion powder in a food processor. Serve on top of Garlic Bruschetta, topped with fresh chives.
Seafood Salad with Celery and Fresh Herbs
Vantia Octopus Salad and Vantia Seafood Salad transform this complex dish in an easy-to-make delight.
Drain Vantia Seafood Salad, dress with lemon zest, EVOO, sliced celery, chives, parsley, crushed pepper flakes, minced garlic and shallot, capers and a touch of red wine vinegar.
Linguine alla Vongole
Tender and meaty, baby clams make this dish a real crowd-pleaser. Feel free to add some freshly steamed clams as a topping for wow effect.
Toss freshly cooked linguine with Vantia White Clam Sauce, lemon zest, and smoked paprika. Top with parsley or chives, and if desired, Parmigiano.
Spaghetti with Red Anchovy Sauce
This savory sauce packs a real punch of flavor thanks to anchovies. The small fish dissolve in olive oil, offering a savory backbone to the sauce, without a trace of fishiness.
Melt anchovies in olive oil, and build up your favorite Marinara sauce with tomatoes, finely diced onions, celery and carrots, garlic, dried basil and oregano, and crushed pepper flakes. Upon serving, top with fresh anchovy fillets and parsley.
Baccala and Potatoes
When asking our employees what dishes were served the night of the Feast, one fish always popped up: cod, or baccala. Salted cod needs to be prepared ahead of time, soaked in milk or water for several days before using.
Toss cubes prepared cod, potato wedges, sliced onions, fresh tomatoes, garlic, and EVOO and layer in a shallow baking dish. If desired, top with a grating cheese and/or breadcrumbs. Bake until top is golden, and fish and potatoes are cooked through.
Cioppino Fish Stew
Inspired by the Genovese dish Cioppin, Cioppino is a delightful tomato-based fish stew born in San Francisco in the 1930s. Historians believe the stew was made as a simple fisherman meal aboard the fishing boats themselves.
Cook down fennel, onion, garlic in EVOO, season with salt and red pepper flake. Add tomato paste, and deglaze your pot with white wine. Add canned tomatoes, fish stock, bay leaf, and simmer for 30 minutes before adding your chosen seafood according to their cooking time. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
Gelato with Pizzelle
Any classic Italian dish will do here, but we love serving a refreshing gelato with assorted toppings. How about offering a DYI topping bar to dinner guests? We love Nutella, sliced almonds, fresh fruit, and crispy Pizzelle cookies.