The Feast of the Seven Fishes, or Festa dei sette pesci, is an Italian-American family dinner celebrated on Christmas Eve. Even though it's part of the Catholic tradition of not eating meat and fasting on the night before Christmas, this feast can be made up of more than just seven fish dishes that you would typically find in southern Italy.
Eating seafood the night before Christmas is a longtime Catholic practice that often ends up being more of a feast than a fast. It can tally up to 13 different dishes in some families.
It’s a longtime tradition in Jimmy Kimmel's family.
“I prepare a huge Christmas Eve feast for 40 to 50 family and friends, and every year I’m like, ‘What am I doing? What is this?’” Kimmel told People. “It takes a good four days of my week off to prepare for it, and then the place is a disaster afterward. I do all the planning and most of the cooking myself.”
Typical dishes include anchovies, lobster, octopus, shrimp, salt cod or whatever your favorite seafood may be.
Where the number seven came from is a matter of debate. Some say it symbolizes the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, the Seven Hills of Rome or the seven days of the week it takes to prepare and recover.
Here are five ways of feasting your way through Vigilia di Natale, the anxious wait for Christmas morning.
Celestino in Pasadena is offering a four-course prix fixe dinner for $78 per person, but it also can ordered à la carte. On chef and owner Calogero Drago’s menu:
For starters, there’s a choice of zuppa di moscardini con crostini all’aglio e olio aromatico, baby octopus stew with toasted garlic bread, or the insalata frutti di mare marinata all olio e limone, seafood salad. The next course features risotto con fave ricci di mare, Arborio rice with sea urchin and fava beans; orecchiette con ragu’ di granchio e gamberetti, small shell pasta with crab meat and rock shrimp; or farfalle con salmone affumicato, asparagi, mascarpone e caviale, bowtie pasta with smoked salmon, asparagus, mascarpone cheese and caviar.
The feast continues with baccala all’acqua pazza, fresh cod with a lemon caper sauce, olives and potato; cioppino alla Mediterranea, mixed seafood stew in a tomato wine sauce; or filetto di nasello con mesticanze di verdure e salsa di peperoni, Chilean sea bass with vegetables and bell pepper sauce for the fish course.
Finish your Christmas Eve dinner with something from the Dolce section and enjoy the tartufo di cedri con fragole marinate, lemon truffle sorbet with fresh marinated strawberries.
Chef-owner Luca Manderino of the newly opened Sosta in Hermosa Beach will honor his Venetian heritage with a special Natale menu that includes sarde in saor (sardines in a traditional Venetian recipe), anguilla in umido (slow-cooked eel with polenta) and coda di rospo in umido (monkfish in a light tomato sauce).
There’s also spaghetti with sea urchin, homemade gnocchi with lobster, salted cod mantecato with black polenta and a long list of other seafood delights.
Chef Clark Staub will be heading south from his Full of Life Flatbread outpost in Los Alamos to help out with the Mar Vista's $60 prix fixe Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner. Offerings include smoked salmon dip or Caesar salad, followed by shell-on grilled shrimp with smoked chickpeas and Sardinian fish peppers or pasta with clams or the fish stew hot pot with crab legs, mussels, shrimp and fish. Enjoy grapefruit gelato or Italian meringue with berries and Chantilly cream for dessert.
The fireplace will be crackling at Lucques on Christmas Eve in West Hollywood, where the full à la carte menu will be available.
Starters include a salad of dandelion and Treviso with Dijon, anchovy, sieved egg; smoked mackerel on rye crostini with cucumber, potato, avocado and dill cream and main course of swordfish with pappa pomodoro, lemon ricotta, garlic greens, black olives and pine nuts. Decadent desserts are halva phyllo cake with yogurt whipped cream and pistachio brittle ice cream as well as chocolate cake with cocoa nibs, chocolate sauce and chocolate whipped cream.
If you’re stuck home in the workshop, here’s a recipe for California spiny lobster cioppino that will warm the soul:
California Spiny Lobster Cioppino (serves 4)
2 spiny lobsters in the shell
1 cup chopped fennel
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped pasilla chili (or your favorite pepper)
2 chopped garlic cloves
1 cup cubed butternut squash
1 bay leaf
Fresh basil or tarragon for garnish
1 can San Marzano whole tomatoes
Pernod liqueur (optional)
Poach the lobsters in the shell in a pot of water with whatever leftovers and peelings you have from the chopped vegetables, salt and pepper for about 10 minutes. Let them cool and strain the broth; reserve about two cups.
Sauté fennel, onion, carrots, chili and garlic in two tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper till wilted. Add broth, squash, tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, shell the lobster and cut into bite-size pieces. Add to the pot and adjust salt and pepper.
Add a tablespoon of Pernod to each bowl before serving if desired, and garnish with chopped basil or tarragon.