Everyday Food Blog

Christmas eve fish feast

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First course of many!

First course of many!

Throughout Italy, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a 7-course fish feast, known as "La Vigilia." There are many schools of thought on why there are seven courses. Some say they represent the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, others believe that they represent the seven virtues. To complicate matters further, some families even serve 10 or 13 courses. I am no expert, and in my family (my father's side is originally from Bari, my mother's side from Tuscany) we somehow ended up with 4 courses of 6 different fish dishes, plus dessert.

There is less debate about why fish is eaten: Christmas Eve is considered a holy day, or "fasting" day, which means no meat can be eaten. Apparently, seven courses of fish still counts as fasting--lucky us!

There are no hard and fast rules about what should be eaten on this night, only that the menu is limited to fish, and there is usually a pasta course. Many Italians serve lobster or eel, and salted cod (also called baccala), which has to be soaked and rinsed several times before it can be eaten,  is very customary.

This is by far my favorite holiday, and I absolutely love this meal. We gather around 8pm at my parents' house (my mother is an incredible cook), and eat until past midnight, at which point we start exchanging gifts with everyone who comes for dinner.

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Simple seafood salad.

1 Simple seafood salad.

Littleneck clams are steamed open in garlic and olive oil, then added, along with all their cooking juices, to spaghetti.

2 Littleneck clams are steamed open in garlic and olive oil, then added, along with all their cooking juices, to spaghetti.

We add a healthy amount of freshly chopped parsley too.

3 We add a healthy amount of freshly chopped parsley too.

Clockwise from top: whipped cod, cod salad, and fried cod.

4 Clockwise from top: whipped cod, cod salad, and fried cod.

We get the salmon in the oven while we are eating the cod.

5 We get the salmon in the oven while we are eating the cod.

Fresh rosemary is snipped into the bowl of par-cooked artichoke hearts.

6 Fresh rosemary is snipped into the bowl of par-cooked artichoke hearts.

Then the artichoke hearts are stuffed into the fish . . .

7 Then the artichoke hearts are stuffed into the fish . . .

Whole branches of rosemary are added . . .

8 Whole branches of rosemary are added . . .

And the fish is closed up like a sandwich.

9 And the fish is closed up like a sandwich.

Chocolate walnut tart on top and ricotta cheesecake on the bottom.

10 Chocolate walnut tart on top and ricotta cheesecake on the bottom.

Full, full, full!

11 Full, full, full!

Here is our menu, unchanged for many years. We love it so much, no one would dare change a thing!

1st course: Seafood salad with poached scallops, shrimp, calamari (squid), celery, olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley

2nd course: Spaghetti with clams

3rd course: Baccala three ways: whipped with olive oil and garlic; in a salad with cherry tomatoes and green olives; and deep fried in olive oil.

4th course: Whole salmon stuffed with artichokes and rosemary

5th course: Chocolate walnut tart and ricotta cheesecake

Do any of you celebrate Christmas Eve with a special dinner? We would love to hear about your tradition.

Comments (3)

  • avatar

    Our Christmas Eve fishes have main stays and new comers year in and year out- for starters we do the Baccala spread with Crostini along with various cheeses and shrimp cocktail - Then mom makes the fried calamari and the Baccala Frittelle and Anchovie Frittelle-

    This year we had a mini course of Lobster as they were on sale!

    Then on to the pasta with White Clam sauce

    Then it was fried shrimp, fried scallops

    Next up was the Eel and fried smelts-

    I think that was it-

  • avatar

    I love your first course; that looks delicious...I'm jealous! This is a great menu; thanks for the fabulous ideas. Glad you had a very Merry Christmas...all the best in 2010!

  • avatar

    I love your first course; that looks delicious...I'm jealous! This is a great menu; thanks for the fabulous ideas. I love seafood and each course compliments the next!

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