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- What Is The Feast Of The Seven Fishes?
- Where Did The Feast Of The Seven Fishes Come From?
- Feast Of The Seven Fishes Menu Ideas
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If you grew up in an Italian-American family, then chances are you celebrated the Feast Of The Seven Fishes as part of your year-end celebrations. Usually observed during Christmas Eve dinner (Cenone della Vigilia di Natale), it’s a special holiday feast that includes seven different types of seafood.
But what’s the connection to seven fishes on Christmas Eve? Let’s explore the history of the Feast Of The Seven Fishes, why it has become such a trendy tradition, and some Feast Of The Seven Fishes menu ideas.
What Is The Feast Of The Seven Fishes?
The Feast Of The Seven Fishes, or “Festa Dei Sette Pesci”, is a century-old Italian-American tradition that has become increasingly popular throughout the United States. During the Christmas holiday season, the Feast is celebrated by gathering around the dinner table with friends and family to enjoy an array of seven delicious seafood dishes for Christmas Eve dinner.
Where Did The Feast Of The Seven Fishes Come From?
Is the Feast Of The Seven Fishes celebrated in Italy? No. It doesn’t even exist there. The Feast was first observed by Italian-Americans in the early 1900s as a way for them to rekindle their connection to the Old Country.
So, what’s connection between fish, the number seven, and Christmas Eve? In case you are curious on the origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, here’s an explanation.
- Seven is one of the most significant numbers in Biblical numerology, and a holy number to Roman Catholics. For example, there are seven sacraments, seven hills in Rome, seven days of the Creation, etc.
- Although the Vatican Council ended most restrictions on meat consumption in the 1960s, many Catholics still choose to abstain from eating meat and dairy products on certain days, including Christmas Eve. As a result, seafood dishes are commonly served instead.
- Christmas Eve was already a special night for Italian-Americans from Southern Italy. Many Catholics from the region observe a tradition called The Vigil (“La Vigilia“), where people wait until midnight on Christmas Eve for the birth of the baby Jesus. Finding additional ways to observe The Vigil, like a special meal, made a lot of sense.
Put them all together in a bowl, mix them up… and you have the Feast Of The Seven Fishes! To outsiders, the tradition itself can sound confusing. But with a little context, it starts to make a little more sense.
NERD NOTE: Some people believe that eating seven fishes on Christmas Eve will bring you good luck and fortune, like eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
Feast Of The Seven Fishes Menu Ideas
Menus for the Feast typically include a fish soup, a couple main plates, several sides, and lots of clever seafood appetizers. But just finding seven different types of fish that your family and friends actually want to eat, is usually harder than it sounds. That’s especially true if kids are involved.
To celebrate the Feast Of The Seven Fishes, first you need to choose seven different types of seafood. Here are some Feast Of The Seven Fishes menu ideas to help inspire your selections.
ANTIPASTA / APPETIZERS
Italian meals are traditionally split into four parts: Antipasta, Primo Piatto (small pasta dishes), Secondo Piatto (main course), and of course, dessert.
The first course is the Antipasta. Typically small and not a pasta dish (thus the name), the Antipasta plates are sharable bites meant to wake up your taste buds. Here are some Feast Of The Seven Fishes recipe ideas for your Antipasta course.
- Calamari Fritti (Fried Calamari): Lightly fried calamari with aioli dipping sauce.
- Acciughe Marinate Alla Ligure (Marinated Anchovies): A simple cold appetizer. The anchovies “cook” in the acid of the lemon juice.
- Cocktail Di Gamberetti (Shrimp Cocktail): Sliced shrimp served cold in a cocktail glass lined with lettuce. Pro Tip: Use caviar as a topping for this dish to count as two of your seven fish!
- Brodetto Di Branzino (Wild Sea Bass Soup): Brodetto is an Italian stew traditionally made by using unsold fish from the catch of the day and seasonal vegetables. Originally considered cucina povera (“poor cooking”), these simple recipes are now often celebrated as classic Italian dishes. This seafood stew uses sea bass as its main ingredient.
- Fritto Misto Di Mare (Fried Mixed Seafood): This traditional Italian dish is prominent in coastal restaurants throughout the Italian coast. This classic recipe lightly coats various seafoods with flour, lightly fries them and then is simply served with a squeeze of lemon for added flavor.
- Italian Tuna Crostini Spread (Tunafish Without Mayonnaise): If you need a last minute substitute, don’t be shy about grabbing a can of tuna from your pantry. You can easily convert canned tuna into an appetizer spread for crackers, crostini, or sliced baguettes. Just add olive oil, salt and some capers and/or celery. Pro Tip: Traditional Italian delis feature Italian Tuna sandwiches on Fridays.
PRIMO PIATTO / FIRST PLATE
The next course of an Italian meal is the Primo Piatto (“first plate”). Often consisting of a pasta dish, this course follows the Antipasto and comes before the Secondo Piatto. Think of the Primo Piatto of a more formal presentation of a side dish, that is served before the main meal.
- Spaghetti alle Vongole (Pasta With Clams): Enjoy a delightful combination of clams, white wine, garlic, and peperoncino in this classic Neopolitan spaghetti dish. Its light yet full flavor and will tantalize your taste buds. Pair with a lovely glass of Italian white wine for the ultimate experience.
- Paccheri con Sugo di Mare (Seafood Pasta): Paccheri are the wide tubes of pasta known for soaking up hearty sauces. They are a perfect choice for collecting rich seafood sauces.
- Crudo Di Pesce (Fish Tartare): This is a light dish commonly served during the summer that mixes sea bass and fruit.
SECONDO PIATTO / MAIN DISHES
The Secondo Piatto (“second plate”) is the main course of a traditional Italian meal. It’s typically served as described without additional side dishes.
- Baccalà Alla Napoletana (Neapolitan-Style Salt Cod With Tomatoes, Capers, and Olives): This recipe puts salt-cured cod fillets in a light bed of tomato sauce with capers and olives.
- Stufato Di Frutti Di Mare (Seafood Stew): One of the easier ways to achieve your goal of using seven fishes, is to prepare recipes that use more than one fish. This Italian seafood stew recipe uses mussel broth along with sea bass, clams, and little seafood meatballs made with shrimp, chorizo and scallops. That five fish right there!
- Pesce Al Forno (Baked Fish): This delicious and easy to bake cod dish is breaded using ground pecans and tomato-flavored crackers to create a delightful, crunchy crust that will leave you wanting more.
- Pesce Alla Griglia (Grilled Fish): A delightful whole grilled fish dish.
- Pesce In Umido (Fish with Roasted Fennel and Olives): This halibut dish is topped with a combination of Taggiasca olives and a hint of fennel, giving it a lovely balance of briny and delicate bitterness.
If you have additional Feast Of The Seven Fishes recipe ideas, then please share them in the comments below.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a wonderful Italian-American tradition. If you haven’t already, consider giving it a try. Even if you’re not Italian, it’s a delicious way to spend time with your loved ones. Who knows, maybe it will become a new tradition with your family.
Buone Feste! And here are some easy Christmas Eve Dinner toasts if case you need them!