FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES

December 19, 2012 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes or Festa dei sette pesci is an Italian Christmas Eve tradition that we might well emulate.

As the name implies it is a feast that features seven seafood dishes.

It can certainly be a healthy option, and if you choose local fish it can be quite affordable. The idea of presenting seven dishes from our own waters sounds like the making of a Gulf Coast tradition that could be fun and challenge that could involve the whole family.

The feast celebrates the Vigilia di Natale or the wait for the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve, but the origins of seven dishes is unknown.

There is much speculation that it has religious connotations as the number seven is often repeated in the Bible ("on the seventh day He rested," etc.), but in the end no one knows. The choice of seafood is a little more obvious in the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat on Fridays during Lent and some holidays.

Perhaps the most popular dish served on this feast day has a Mississippi Gulf Coast connection -- baccala or bakalar to local residents who brought the salt cod recipe from their native Croatia, has long been made in Biloxi. Other popular dishes include fried fish and shrimp, seafood salads, raw oysters and squid or calamari.

Space will not allow all seven recipes to be printed so only three are presented, along with an after dinner drink and dessert option. The other four are pretty simple and online recipes abound. Here are seven seafood suggestions; hearty oyster stew, linguine and salty oysters, shrimp and spicy grits, crispy fried shrimp, creamy crab au gratin, crab cakes with spicy mayonnaise and fish stuffed with fragrant herbs and grilled on a wood fire.

Please remember to invite someone to your Christmas table who might otherwise spend the day alone.

LINGUINE AND OYSTERS

1 pound linguine

1 pint oysters

1/4 cup chopped smoked sausage

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

4 toes finely chopped garlic

2/3 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

Black pepper, red pepper flakes

Optional: Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, add a few tabs of butter if you like and set aside. Sauté the sausage until well browned, add the onions and bell pepper, season to your taste and continue cooking for 10 minutes over a medium low heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and reduce until almost completely evaporated, strain the oysters and add the liquor to the pan and reduce again. When almost gone add the oysters, toss with the cilantro and simmer over low heat for 3-4 minutes, or just until the oysters are done. If you over cook the oysters they will be tough and lose their salty goodness. Toss with the pasta and if your Italian friends do not object too loudly dust with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately. Pair with a good quality Chablis.

SIMPLE FRIED SHRIMP WITH AN ASIAN TWIST

1 pound large shrimp

1 package tempura powder

1 package panko bread crumbs

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Peel the shrimp and de-vein them if there is a pronounced vein visible, then wash well. Toss the shrimp in the dry tempura powder which has been aggressively seasoned with Tony's, set aside and wait for them to become tacky or spritz with water. Once they are sticky toss in the panko, shake off the excess and fry in almost smoking hot oil for 1 minute or just until well browned. Never over fill the pot with oil, not more than half way, or you risk a serious fire. Serve with

a cold Italian Prosecco sparkling wine.

CRAB CAKES WITH SPICY MAYONNAISE

1 pound jumbo lump crab meat

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (mix red and green if you like)

1/4 cup chopped celery

3-4 finely chopped toes of garlic

1 whole egg

1 package panko bread crumbs

Black pepper, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning

FOR THE MAYONNAISE

1 cup best quality mayonnaise

Juice of 1 lemon

Meat of 1 avocado

Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

Sauté the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes, add the bell pepper and celery and cook for 5 more minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute and then season to your taste. Allow to cool, then add the egg, toss in half the package of panko and mix well (if it does not bind well add another egg). Carefully mix in the crab so that you don't break up the lumps, form into patties and sauté in a little butter until well browned. Mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice and avocado in a blender, season with a little black pepper and a few pinches of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, remove and place in a sealable jar (keep the mayonnaise refrigerated until ready to use). Serve the crab cakes immediately, garnish with the mayonnaise, lemon wedges and a few leaves of basil. Serve with a crisp Pinot Grigio.

A SIMPLE SWEET COFFEE DESSERT

Fresh-made strong black coffee

1 Lindt hazelnut truffle chocolate per person

Sweetened condensed milk

Pour1/4-inch sweetened condensed milk into a shot glass, add the chocolate and fill with hot, strong coffee. Serve with a small spoon so your guests can stir and mix the condensed milk and chocolate before drinking.

LIMONCILLO, A HOMEMADE AFTER DINNER DRINK

1 (750 ml) bottle vodka

6 large lemons

2 cups sugar

1 quart water

1 re-sealable bottle (best is the flip-top bottle French lemonade comes in)

Peel the lemons and stuff the peel into the bottle. Add the vodka and place in the refrigerator for one week or up to one month. Give the bottle a spin every day. Remove from the fridge and allow to warm to room temperature. Add the sugar to the quart of water and simmer to form a simple syrup. It is important to allow it to cool or you might cause the bottle to shatter. Remove and discard the lemon peel, pour in the vodka and the syrup. This will keep almost indefinitely in the freezer. Serve in shot glasses very cold.

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