Christ­mas Eve Ital­ian style: Loads of fish

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FOOD - By The Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica

For a hol­i­day so widely cel­e­brated, the tra­di­tions sur­round­ing Christ­mas are as unique as the or­na­ments that dec­o­rate your tree. From decor, songs, sto­ries and gifts, Christ­mas looks a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent in ev­ery home across the world, but of course, here at The Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica, we’re es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in what’s on the ta­ble.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can tra­di­tion to ring in Christ­mas Eve, when Ro­man Catholics cel­e­brate the mid­night birth of Je­sus, known in Ital­ian as “La Viglia.” Fish is a tra­di­tional in­gre­di­ent in the Christ­mas Eve din­ner be­cause cus­tom calls for the es­chew­ing of red meat lead­ing up to the hol­i­day.

Though today the feast is com­monly re­ferred to as the “seven fishes,” the ori­gin of that num­ber is un­clear, and in fact, many Ital­ian and Amer­i­can homes may serve up­wards of 10 dishes to cel­e­brate the feast. Recipes vary from re­gion to re­gion, but com­mon in­gre­di­ents can in­clude salted cod, cala­mari, shell­fish, and shrimp, which may be stewed, fried, sauteed, or even served raw. Of course, you’re likely to find a pasta dish in the mix.

This can lead to a long day in the kitchen, but it doesn’t have to be a strug­gle. If you want to cel­e­brate Christ­mas Eve the Ital­ian way, try this quick and easy Seven Fishes Sauce recipe.

This sim­ple sauce is a tra­di­tional mix of aro­matic in­gre­di­ents, white wine, and fish broth that will lightly coat the fish(es) and pasta. For our main in­gre­di­ents, we’ve cho­sen the seafood heavy hit­ters: crab, shrimp, cala­mari, clams, mussels, scal­lops, and white fish. You can serve the shell­fish in their shells for a dra­matic pre­sen­ta­tion, or serve them shucked for a more user­friendly ex­pe­ri­ence.

De­pend­ing on where you live, your fish mar­kets may be buzzing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the hol­i­day, but don’t be tempted to se­cure your catch too early. Your in­gre­di­ents should be as fresh as pos­si­ble, kept cold and over ice, if your re­frig­er­a­tor is es­pe­cially crowded. Make sure you give your clams and mussels some breath­ing room if they came packed in plas­tic.

While we’ve added it to the Christ­mas Eve menu, you can use this recipe as a base for week­night din­ners all year long. Add Thai-style aro­mat­ics to the broth, like gin­ger and lemon grass, and a squeeze of lime juice for a Tom Yum-style broth. Or, dur­ing the sum­mer, add chopped fresh toma­toes, cilantro, and some hot chilis for a Latin flair.

We like serv­ing this sauce over pasta (be­cause ev­ery­thing is bet­ter with pasta), but you will also love it over creamy po­lenta, roasted veg­eta­bles or pota­toes, or steamed rice. You can even serve it on its own, along­side some crusty bread for dip­ping.

De­pend­ing on how you serve it, this can be a deca­dent first course or sat­is­fy­ing en­trée, but we think how­ever you fill your ta­ble, your guests will be lucky to share a buon Natale with you and your loved ones.

Seven Fish Sauce

Serv­ings: 6 Start to fin­ish: 30 min­utes 2 ta­ble­spoon ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, plus more for gar­nish 6 gar­lic cloves, minced 1⁄2 tea­spoon red pep­per flakes 4 an­chovy fil­lets (op­tional) 2⁄3 cup dry white wine 2 cups clam broth 2 cups fish stock 12 shrimp (21⁄25 count), heads and tails on, if de­sired 1⁄4 pound of squid, tubes and ten­ta­cles, tubes sliced into 1⁄4-inch rings 1 1⁄2 pound small clams 1 lb mussels, de­bearded and scrubbed 1⁄2 pound bay scal­lops 1 pound king crab leg, cracked into 6 por­tions (or 1⁄4 pound lump crab meat) 1⁄4 pound white flesh fish, such as had­dock, cod, or hal­ibut 1⁄2 cup diced Roma toma­toes 1 lb lin­guine, cooked, for serv­ing 1⁄4 cup chopped pars­ley Sliced pick­led pep­pers, for gar­nish (op­tional)

Heat oil in a sauce pot over medium heat. Add gar­lic, pep­per flakes, and an­chovies, if us­ing. Cook un­til fra­grant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook un­til it re­duces by about half, about 5 min­utes.

Add clam broth and fish stock and bring to a light sim­mer.

Add the shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, and scal­lops and slowly poach un­til the fishes be­come firm and the mussels open, about 5 min­utes.

Add the crab, white fish, and toma­toes and cook gen­tly, low­er­ing the heat as needed to main­tain a sim­mer, un­til firm, about 3 min­utes. Take care not to over­cook the fish, or it will flake apart when served.

Re­move from the heat and la­dle into serv­ing dishes over the pasta. Gar­nish with pars­ley and pep­pers, if us­ing, and driz­zle with olive oil be­fore serv­ing.

Nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion per serv­ing: 624 calo­ries; 81 calo­ries from fat; 9 g fat (1 g sat­u­rated; 0 g trans fats); 170 mg choles­terol; 1637 mg sodium; 69 g car­bo­hy­drate; 3 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 59 g pro­tein.

This ar­ti­cle was pro­vided to The As­so­ci­ated Press by The Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica in Hyde Park, N.Y.

PHIL MANS­FIELD/THE CULI­NARY IN­STI­TUTE OF AMER­ICA VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A photo pro­vided by The Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica shows a seven fishes sauce served over pasta in Hyde Park, N.Y.

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