A Christmas Eve tradition: Feast of Seven Fishes
Zuppa di Pesce for the Feast of the Seven Fishes features crab, clams, mussels, shrimp, whiting, scallops, and squid.
Zuppa di Pesce
Makes about 8 servings
Italian Soup of the Fish adapted from David Gullo’s “Cioppino Gullo”
For the Brodo (broth):
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups tomato sauce (preferably home-made)
1½ cup fish or chicken stock
1 cup wahite wine
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pot and add the onion. Saute until translucent and add the garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomato sauce, stock, and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the carrots and simmer until tender (about 15 minutes). Check seasoning. Can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring brodo to a boil before adding fish.
For the 7 Fishes:
Cooking the fish and shellfish in two pots ensures even cooking.
1 cup white wine
1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced
1 garlic clove, halved
2 king crab claws
8 little neck clams, scrubbed
8 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
2 squid bodies, cut into ½” rings
8 squid tentacles (optional)
4 sea scallops, halved
8 (16-20 count) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-8oz Whiting Fillets, skin removed and cut into 8-2-oz mini fillets
Bring the brodo to a boil in a large pot and reduce to a simmer. Meanwhile, bring the wine, tomato, and garlic to a boil in a second stock pot. Add the crab legs to the pot with the wine. Reduce to a simmer, cover and allow legs to steam for 8 minutes. Remove legs and add the clams. Cover and allow clams to steam for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, add the squid to the simmering brodo. After two minutes add the mussels to the pot with the clams, cover and allow to steam for 8 minutes or until open (discard any that do not open) Add the scallops, shrimp, and whiting to the brodo; cook without stirring for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, crack and remove the meat from the crab claws. Chop and keep warm.
16 Baguette slices, drizzled with olive oil, grilled and rubbed with garlic
Divide the seafood evenly among 8 large soup bowls. Lade the brodo around the seafood in the bowls and garnish with parsley, lemon wedges and grilled bread.
Shrimp and Saffron Pancakes with Rouille
Makes about 30 pancakes
I adapted this savory appetizer from a recipe Ellyn Gullo shares with her family on the feast of the seven fishes. Rouille, the traditional accompaniment to Bouillabaisse, serves as a nod to Patricia Gullo’s first year hosting the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
For the Rouille:
1 red pepper, roasted and finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 piece of white bread, torn
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Combine (except 2 tablespoons of the red pepper) red pepper, garlic, bread, egg yolk, mustard and vinegar in the bowl of a food processor until smooth. Season mixture with salt and pepper. With the machine running, gradually drizzle in the oil until mixture thickens and resembles mayonnaise. Can be made one day ahead, cover and refrigerate.
For the Pancakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup corn meal
½ teaspoon Baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1/3 pound raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and finely minced
¼ cup Italian parsley, minced
¼ cup green onion tops, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
1¼ cup water
Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl. Fold in the shrimp, parsley, green onion, paprika, and saffron. Mix in the water until a very thick batter forms. Allow mixture to sit covered in the refrigerator over night.
When ready to cook pancakes, heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium high heat. Add 1T olive oil to the pan and add the batter 1T at a time to the pan without over crowding. When edges bubble and underside is golden, flip the bite-sized pancakes and cook on the second side. Allow hot pancakes to drain on paper towels and cool slightly (shrimp will continue to cook as they sit). Repeat this process, adding more oil to the pan between batches, until all batter is used.
Transfer pancakes to a platter. Drizzle with the rouille and sprinkle with reserved roasted red pepper and parsley leaves. Serve warm.
Updated: January 23, 2012 10:01AM
My Sicilian mother-in-law fondly remembers her father making his way to the fish markets early on Christmas Eve morning and returning to their New York duplex with packages brimming with fresh octopus, squid, sardines, whitefish, salt cod and whatever other seafood had caught his eye that morning.
Her mother and father would busy themselves cooking for the better part of the day while she and her brothers enjoyed the cozy glow of the Christmas tree.
In the evening, with the scent of gently and lovingly prepared seafood perfuming the air, her family would gather around the kitchen table to savor an annual meal featuring seven different fish dishes. With full bellies and alert minds, the Festa family would then make their way to church for midnight Mass.
Southern Italians are no strangers to the Feast of the Seven Fishes; the Christmas Eve tradition dates back to the seventh century. Some believe the number of dishes originated from the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, but historically the celebratory meal simply utilized the bounty of fish and seafood available in southern Italian port towns during the winter months. The lightness of the fish dishes, when properly cooked, would even aid in keeping people awake long enough to make it to late-night church services.
Ellyn Gullo, of River Forest, remembers the first time her Irish mother, Patrica Gullo, tackled the challenging meal. Ellyn’s father, Joseph Gullo, was a first generation Sicilian American and treasured the fish focused tradition. Patricia wanted to continue the feast for her seven children.
“My mother started off by calling the soup we make Bouillabaisse,” Ellyn remembers, but over the years, with Joseph’s careful guidance, the dish lost its French influences and evolved into a more tried-and-true Italian soup the family calls Cioppino Gullo.
The men of the Gullo clan purchase the fish for the soup early on the day of the feast and David Gullo, of Elmwood Park, makes the tomato based brodo (broth) for the soup that features shrimp, calamari, mussels, scallops, lobster, clams and squid.
The Gullos round out their meal with assorted appetizers, salad, baked whitefish, bread and pasta, but the spirit of the day is reflected best in the collective effort it takes to pull off a dish worthy of bearing the family name. Ellyn admits, “Being a part of hustle and bustle in the kitchen is my favorite part of the day!”
It has been 40 years since the Gullo Family started celebrating the feast of the seven fishes and it continues to be their largest family celebration of the year. Today, more than 35 family members gather around an enormous dining room table set with the finest china and stemware on Christmas Eve to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“Serving this meal has been a grounding tradition for our family for years and now it is extremely special that we can cook the meal my father loved so much in his memory.”
Over the course of years, children grow-up and beloved family members pass on, but my mother-in-law and the Gullo Family remind me that keeping family traditions alive is a vital aspect of the holiday season; continuity is the fabric that binds a family together.
It is my sincerest wish that everyone seizes the opportunity to make cherished memories around their holiday table this year. Buon Appetito!
Melissa Elsmo is an Oak Park mom, wife and chef/foodie. She speaks regularly about reclaiming the family dinner hour with nutritious meals. Check out her food blog at www.outofmelskitchen.blogspot.com.