As a proud Italian American I am a card holding veteran of more than fifty years of the “Night of Seven Fishes” and my traditions are as strong as my innovations. For years, after the death of my parents I had celebrated Christmas Eve on my own and in my own terms. Two years ago I met Danny and he drew me back into an Italian American family whose rituals held fast. This article is for Danny’s sister, Olga, who hosts Christmas Eve every year at her beautiful and holiday decorated home in Somerville, Massachusetts.
She has asked me to help her update her holiday menu for Christmas Eve and that I am happy to do.
For most of us, Italian Americans, our “festa” or feast was a combination of “Baccala” or dried cod, octupus, conch, scallops, smelts, whiting fish, shrimps and scallops. For this year, I offer a new menu for busy familes who enjoy tradition but need a tasty yet expedient way to honor this tradition. Here is my offering for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, 2013.
An easy way to start is that you can do either a clam dip with chips or baked stuffed clams that you can pass. For my New England family Stuffed Quahogs make the grade. You can easily prepare this smart appetizer as you will have so much time “not” preparing the Baccala. If you are not inclined to do the shucking and chopping and stuffing, just steam the clams in a broth of butter, white wine and parsley and toss them on the serving table. You think people do not like steamed clams, think again. Quahogs tend to be meaty clams so think about substituting them with Cherry Stones instead. I am not one who enjoys an Ipswich clam as the tail is too chewy and rubbery. Try a large lobster pot with white wine and butter and then toss the clams into a ceramic bowl with enough clam liquor and broth and you have the first part of your seven fishes covered. No problem.
The next step is so easy. Shrimp cocktail offered with both cocktail sauce and remoulade sauce is the way to go. Chill the shrimp, make a decorative bouquet in your best crystal bowl and set it on the dining room table. You have two of the seven fishes down and you have not done very much work, right? Now if you are truly lazy chef (like me) you can do what I do and that is to keep a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer, a roll of crescent roll mix in the fridge and a few cartons of butter. I take the frozen shrimp out of the freezer and wrap them in the crescent rolls that have been generously buttered and garlicked and toss them in the oven and then I pass those wrapped shrimp around as if I have been slaving in the kitchen all day. Shrimp En Croute
Salmon and Smoked Trout Mousse
So a few days before the holiday you can buy smoked salmon and smoked trout in sealed packages at the grocery store. You can store them for months in the fridge, but for Christmas Eve, Night of the Seven Fishes, all you really have to do is toss the contents of the fish in the blender with your choice of cream cheese, mayonnaise or plain yogurt and whip it up. I like to add a dollop of sour cream, for no other reason than I am that “type of gal”. In my younger days I would de pulp cherry tomatoes and pastry bag the smoked fish stuffing into each tomato but frankly now that I am older and tireder and so much lazier now I just pipe out the smoked fish stuffing mixture onto Baguette rounds. Sometimes I toast the baguettes, but most of the time it is just fresh baquette with smoked fished mousse piped on. It is neat it is sweet and I love how others devour each and every canape. Yum.
Okay four fishes down and now three to go? Are you ready? You have some work to do here so let us get cracking.
Scallops are a must and you know this. I think the best way to tackle this is the roll the scallop in a slice of bacon and throw it in the oven. Yes this is right. Stick with Sea Scallops, while more pricey than the Bay scallop they hold up to the broiler better and you can stick that bacon around each one with amazing toothpick speed. I think the bacon adds the right amount of fat but I like to take a brush and “butter up” each bacon wrapped Scallop. Broil those babies until they are golden and then set them out on the table. You will not see them for very long because they are gobbled up faster than you can say Scallops wrapped in Bacon.
As a New England gal I am not an expert when it comes to crab but I do shop at a supermarket that does a Maryland Crab Cake that is to die for. I love those cakes and I serve them with a Remoulade sauce that tingles everyone’s taste buds. So for the first course of a sit down dinner, after passing all those delicious dishes above I recommend locally made Crab Cakes. I never had these cakes growing up in my Italian household but they so work for me now. Have your local store make them up for you (you have enough to do today) and shove them in the oven. Plate with a sprig of parsley, a slice of lemon and a scoop of remoulade and you are on your way.
If you are Italian and you live in New England, Lobster has to be on the menu and for me that is the final course of any feast. You can do this your way and broil up some butter soaked lobster tails or Chix Lobsters or you can do it my way and make a pot of Lobster filled Ravioli available at any Italian market any day of the week. I like this my way, because if I serve Ravioli I do not have to do sides. For me, holidays are about spending time with family and friends and not in the kitchen. I know some who would prefer to not spend time with family and friends and so the Lobster or Lobster tails with sides is surely the way to go. No worries, I won’t tell.
Happy Christmas Eve to all and MANGIA~