Italian "Seven Fishes" Christmas Eve Tradition
Feast of the
Seven Fishes" tradition. The dishes, which typically total seven, representing
the seven sacraments, are each prepared using a different fish, technique
Celebrate Christmas Eve the Italian Way
Pioneer Local: By Veronica Hinke, Contributor; December 16, 2010
Nick Saladino still recalls the sauteed calamari and marinara sauce his Uncle Leo always made for his family every Christmas Eve while he was growing up. His Uncle Leo served the calamari over linguini.
"We were Catholic; you couldn't eat meat on Christmas Eve," Saladino said.
At Trattoria Pomigliano, the 15-year-old corner restaurant Saladino and his wife Patty own in Libertyville, "Calamari Uncle Leo" will be on the menu on Christmas Eve. Reclaiming the dish to serve to their guests at the restaurant is how the couple will honor Nick's uncle Leo, who has passed away.
Fish is a popular holiday choice among Italians during the holidays, when it still comprises "most of the meal" for traditionalists like Saladino.
"When my daughters visit our house in Libertyville on Christmas Eve, we make shrimp, baked clams, pizza with anchovies - the kinds of foods my parents made on Christmas Eve," he said.
"Anchovy bread," made by adding anchovies and anchovy oil to homemade bread dough, is another customary Italian food that the Saladinos enjoy during the holidays.
"Save some of the dough to fry in oil, without the anchovies, and coat it in sugar to make fried breads," Saladino suggested. "When they're hot, you just keep eating them."
Anchovy bread and anchovy pizza are two of Saladino's mother-in-law Ann Panico's long-standing recipes. Both are on the menu at Trattoria Pomigliano at Christmastime.
This Christmas Eve, Trattoria Pomigliano will also offer a cold octopus salad. Made with boiled octopus, the chunks are coated with a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and vinegar. Another cold fish dish will feature boiled cod mixed in lemon juice and boiled broccoli.
Prawns and risotto will be one of the dishes Frank Mnuk, chef at Pensiero Ristorante in Evanston, will offer during a special Christmas Eve dinner that will be inspired by the popular Italian "Feast of the Seven Fishes" tradition. The dishes, which typically total seven, representing the seven sacraments, are each prepared using a different fish, technique and seasonings. Mnuk uses Arborio rice, which is short grain rice grown in Arborio in Italy's Po Valley and is the kind used to make risotto.
"The dish can be made using shrimp or prawns," said Pensiero Ristorante General Manger Emlyn Thomas. "Make sure the shrimp is not overcooked. It will continue to cook while plating."
An optional seasoning for the dish is a bit of grated bottargo, which is cured roe of mullet or tuna.
"This dish will pair nicely with a crisp, white wine that is not too buttery, or a light-bodied red like a Pinot Noir," Thomas said. "But it goes amazingly well with sparkling wines. It is a great holiday item; rich, indulgent, and with powerful flavors."
Thomas also enjoys reclaiming classic Italian dishes that don't include fish. At home during the holidays, he makes lasagna with a combination of beef and sausage for his friends from scratch, just as his mother used to make year-round. He evens makes the noodles.
"Making your own noodles is a great way to surprise your friends during the holidays," he said.