I grew up in an Italian American family in New Jersey, where’s it’s practically the law to celebrate Christmas Eve with the so-called “Feast of Seven Fishes.” No one knows why we eat seven kinds of seafood (though the repetition of 7 in the Bible could be a motive), though it is clearly a Catholic custom to abstain from meat on sacred days. I often joke that if you only served 7 types of fish on December 24 in Italy no one would accept an encore visit to your paltry spread. The truth is, no one here is actually counting, but if you’re dining in the south you can bet your baccalà there’s gonna be a very extensive spread, often featuring a dozen or more types of fish. Things are a bit more restrained in the north, where you may even find some meat on the table. I try to stay true to my Jersey Italian roots and serve the prescribed sum. Whether you’re capping your fish menu at seven or buying out the entire fish market, I’m sharing some of my favorite pescatarian recipes with you here. Auguri!
Stuffed Calamari: Stuffing calamari bodies with seasoned breadcrumbs and their own chopped up legs is savage but delicious!
Pasta with Pesto and Tuna in the Style of Carloforte: This Sardinian classic from the tiny fishing island of San Pietro marries the Ligurian origins of San Pietro’s settlers with the local tinned fish industry.
Octopus and Potato Salad: You might want to skip the green beans in the dead of winter, but otherwise this recipe is a winner!
Spaghetti with Clams: Maybe my favorite thing ever. Also not the hardest thing to make for a lot of people!
Bigoli in Salsa: Pasta with anchovy and onion sauce from the cover of Food of the Italian Islands! If you don’t have bigoli (unless you’re in Venice, the odds are you won’t), just use spaghetti.
Candida Sportiello’s Pesce all’Acqua Pazza: The late chef from Ventotene made my favorite fish stew ever.
Stuffed Mussels: Two fish in one…there’s canned tuna in the filling, which sounds insane but is actually delicious!
Happy Feast of Seven Fishes to all who observe!