Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve
A marinara-smeared kitchen timer ticks as Donna Berzato choreographs an intricate dance of dishes around limited oven space. “I want you to remember to put the Rockefellers in the oven, and take out the artichokes that are left in the oven open,” she instructed her son, Carmi. “I want you to put the branzino on top and let it grill and get a nice little crunch.”
The alarm rings again and again, a metaphor for the ticking time bomb of family drama brewing during preparations for the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. High-intensity cooking feat scenes from the final season of the popular TV series “The Bear”,” He presented a highly emotional portrait of a tradition dear to many Italian American families. The alarming 67 minutes probably didn’t inspire anyone to eat the festive meal.
Which is a shame because the food is amazing, and the kitchen drama is part of what makes it all worth it. As an Italian-American who grew up with feasting, I recognize the truth behind the dramatization in “The Bear”: A meal is often more about cooking than eating. As any family who has tried to prepare it knows, the essence of the Feast of the Seven Fishes is the chaos of preparation, which is inherent in the celebration.
Some believe you have to suffer to make food taste good (hi, Donna!), while others embrace the chaos and spice it up with laughter and joy. “For my parents, being in the kitchen is the holiday,” said Francesco Sedetta, co-author of the children’s picture book “Our Italian Christmas Eve.”
In Italy, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner is known as La Vigilia, or The Eve. Rooted in Roman Catholicism, which calls for abstaining from eating meat on the eve of any holiday, La Vigilia tends to be a seafood bounty. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a uniquely American holiday. Italian immigrants created their own traditions and identities, and likely used the number seven because of its biblical significance.
The feast usually consists of at least seven dishes, each containing its own type of fish, divided into different dishes. There are no strict rules, and no specific fish required. Each family takes great pride in its unique way of organizing the holiday.
For modern holidays, what remains important is keeping the tradition alive out of respect for the aunts, uncles and grandparents who have prepared the meal for years. However, the elaborate menu has evolved to keep the Eid buzz alive.
“Eating seven fish for dinner, realistically, can be a heavy lift for people,” said Italian-American chef Christian Petroni.
One way to bring the feast to the table without making it a stressful or dramatic task is to prepare seven fish, but not seven dishes. The menu below does this by including an easy and fun cold seafood salad that contains three types of seafood. Butter-stuffed oysters can be baked and then kept warm until it’s time to serve, and anchovy-stuffed dough balls can be shaped and fried beforehand.
In the end, the saucy and festive pasta catches up with the remaining fish—but it may be the only dish you serve if that’s all you have time to do. If so, open cans of salty anchovies, sardines or mussels for an easy way to access seven fish.
Every year, while my family works away in the kitchen, we brag that we spent the previous week obsessively sourcing seafood from several different fish markets in town, as if there were a badge of honor to be earned for each stop. We laugh as older generations playfully scare children with the most bizarre sea creatures. My aunt frantically asks who can bring an extra bowl of pasta, as if she doesn’t get the same urgent revelation every year. There are not enough utensils one way or another.
As Mr. Sedita said, it’s not just about the food, but also “dedication to spending time together. We’re in it for the long haul — laughing, crying, screaming. Ultimately, what we’re really feeding off of is the emotions, which hopefully will bring more smiles.” And reduce the emotion of everything else on the table.
Each bite of these dough rounds begins with a perfectly crisp exterior that gives way to a pillowy, yeasty interior. Once you hit the fish in the center, you will enter a state of glistening ecstasy. They’re delicious at room temperature and hot, so you can fry them ahead of time.
This version of the classic Italian dish uses shrimp, scallops, and calamari, but it works well with any seafood you can get your hands on. Prepare it a day in advance to give the seafood more time to absorb the lemon-garlic sauce.
In this beloved Italian-American classic, buttery crackers are used in place of regular breadcrumbs to add their fatty saltiness to the crunchy coating, which covers juicy whole oysters. Pour the buttery wine sauce over the oysters just before eating.
Simple yet festive, this delicious seafood pasta is a festive dish your guests will want to eat. Steamed mussels with white wine and tomato-poached cod top a mound of bucatini covered in a buttery gravy sauce.