There is no greater delight during the holidays than gathering around a bountiful table and indulging with friends and family. Like most cultures, Italy has its own traditional holiday foods. The Christmas Eve meal is called La Vigilia, Feast of the Seven Fishes, which includes seven different seafood dishes though this number varies from region to region. The meal dates back to the Roman Catholic tradition of refraining from the consumption of meat (except fish) on specific holy days. Almost any fish dish you can think of turns up during this feast but the key is to serve everything one course at a time so you can talk, and talk, and talk, sharing a bottle of wine or two.
At Assaggio, we are offering our own Italian-style Christmas Eve dinner specials in addition to our menu, focusing on hearty family style servings. White lasagna, homemade pastas and of course seafood soup, are only a few of the dishes being prepared. Relax and enjoy the company of friends and make sure to celebrate with lots of Prosecco or maybe a warm mug of Bombardino, egg nog and brandy.
And just in case you want to have your own Feast of the Seven Fishes, here is a seafood dish from my cookbook (which you can purchase through our website) to get you started:
1 pound small to medium-sized mussels
1 pound clams
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pound squid, cut into rings
½ cup chopped green onions
½ cup saffron tea (see below)
2 cups fish broth (see below)
1 cup heavy cream
½ pound bay scallops
½ pound cooked, shelled bay shrimp
Fresh parsley leaves
Wash and scrub mussels and clams well under cold running water, discarding any open clams and mussels. Remove the beard from the mussels.
Melt butter over medium-low heat in a large saucepan; add salt and pepper. Add squid and sauté for two minutes. Add mussels and green onions and sauté for another two minutes. Pour in saffron tea, fish broth, and cream. Increase heat to medium, cover, and bring to a boil, about five minutes. Add clams and scallops, cover, and cook for two minutes. Stir in shrimp, cover, and cook for two more minutes, or until all calms have opened. Transfer immediately to a large, low-sided serving bowl, discarding any unopened mussels and clams.
Garnish with parsley leaves and serve with grilled Tuscan bread.
Makes 3 cups
1 tablespoon saffron threads
3 cups of water
Heat a small dry frying pan or skillet to medium low; add saffron threads, and toast lightly, stirring often for three to five minutes. Saffron should not turn black. Remove saffron from the pan.
Bring water to a boil in medium saucepan. Add saffron, reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes. You can either strain the tea or leave the saffron threads in.
Saffron tea can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for later use.
Makes 3 to 4 quarts
2 pounds fish heads, fish strips, prawn shells, or whole fish
2 celery stalks, with leaves, broken into three pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half
1 large onion, quartered
6 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons salt
3 bay leaves, broken into small pieces
2 tablespoons lobster base (optional)
4 quarts plus 2 cups cold water
Place seafood, celery, carrots, onion, peppercorns, salt, bay leaves and lobster base in a very large pot. Add cold water and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for one hour. Skim surface foam occasionally with a slotted spoon.
Strain broth, discarding solids. Broth can be separated into convenient containers and frozen for later use.