The Feast of the Seven Fishes

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Another request from the readers...

What to make on Christmas Eve.

If you are an Italian American then Christmas Eve is celebrated by serving a boat load of fish.  Some call it The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  In Italy they just call it a grand meal. 

It appears that the root of this tradition is based mostly in the religious fervor of abstaining from eating red meat until Christmas day.  Folks stayed away from meat eating during various religious days throughout the year and the eve before Christmas was no exception. La Vigilia or Vigilia di Natale; the vigil held until midnight when baby Jesus was born. However, in true Italian style, just because one is abstaining from one type of food doesn’t mean you go hungry.  Oh, the contrary.  Instead they serve an abundance of something else.  Hence, bring in the fishes!

My mom and grandmothers prepping. It takes a village and a few generations to feed an Italian family!      Photo credit: Paul Majewski

My mom and grandmothers prepping. It takes a village and a few generations to feed an Italian family!     Photo credit: Paul Majewski

So serving seven fishes is a made up number really.  Some Italian American families go up to 13. These are clearly people will a ton of time on their hands. Preparing that many dishes, and ones that are not so easy to pull off is no simple feat.  But usually this group has a team of grandmothers, aunts, cousins, etc all pitching in.  It seems that whatever the number count, it is always an odd number since that brings good luck.  However, the number 7 is believed to hold a higher significance as it is based in religious reasons. Some theories:

  • The number 7 is the most repeated number in the bible, making appearances over 700 times.
  • God did all his work in 6 days and the 7th he rested.  I would say he could use a day off.
  • In the Roman Catholic Church there are seven Sacraments.

Blah blah blah.  The number isn’t as important as the tradition of serving fish.  I’m not so big on the why but continuing traditions that bring good memories.  If it’s a tradition that is based on something religious and that has meaning to you, great.  If not, but the tradition evokes love and laughter with family and friends, well that my friend is what it is all about.

Family meal. Eat up everyone!                                                                                                                                             Photo credit: Paul Majewski

Family meal. Eat up everyone!                                                                                                                                            Photo credit: Paul Majewski

If you are going to attempt the feat of The Feast of Seven Fishes, start early.  And I mean that.  You will need several days of prep if you are going to make any of the tradition recipes.  I have listed them at the bottom of this post with links to popular recipes.  This list is the most common fish used for the feast.

  • anchovies 
  • salted cod fish
  • clams
  • eels
  • lobster
  • merluzzo (cod)
  • mussels
  • octopus
  • sardines
  • scungilli
  • shrimp
  • smelts
  • squid
  • whiting

So let's say that you are interested in trying this tradition but just want to give a nod to the fishes, as opposed to swimming with the fishes, which is another reference entirely. Then swim along with me. I like abundance but I don't have a team of helpers. Below are a few dishes that are simpler in preparation and in numbers.  Pick and choose among my recipe list below. I’m suggesting you start off with 3. Still an odd number for good luck, if you believe in that sort of thing, and much easier to manage. These recipes are not traditional Italian but a lighter version than all the usual fried options and much less demanding. You should only need one day of prep prior and help on the day of.

I had every intention of writing about some of the dishes below prior to this post but alas I had other recipes I wanted to share with you all year long. So you will just have to give it a whirl with my quick instructions.  You can always call or email me with questions.  I mean that.  

The FIsh usually swim onto the plates in an order like this:  First course, something light and snack like.  Then followed by a salad of seafood. Then a dish that is a bit heartier, like a roasted, grilled or seared fish, followed by the pasta course then a hearty seafood stew.  I think I hit most of these courses with the exception of the stew.  But remember I was trying to ease up on the workload for you.

 

Smoked Trout served on potatoes with sour cream & chives

  • Cut small new potatoes in half, slicing off a tiny bit of the rounded edge so they sit properly.  Boil until tender. Let cool.  Top with flaked pieces of smoked trout, a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of chives.
Little bites of yum, smoked trout with sour cream & chives on potato rounds

Little bites of yum, smoked trout with sour cream & chives on potato rounds

Crabmeat & Citrus 'Martini'

  • Combine fresh crabmeat, with yellow bell pepper, celery, grapefruit and orange sections and mint. Serve in a martini glass with endive leaves and spoon the juice from the citrus into each glass.  
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Boquerones 

  •   Fresh anchovies can be served in several ways.  Check out the highlighted title link for serving ideas.
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Salmon & Cucumber Rounds

  • Cut English cucumbers into 1/2” rounds. On plastic wrap, spread smoked salmon out to create a full layer.  Spread whipped cream cheese over the entire layer. Sprinkle with chives (capers and minced shallots optional).  Roll up the entire layer to create a log. Wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Before serving cut into 1/2” rounds, place on top of the cucumber and finish with a small piece of fresh dill

Bellini with Crème Fraiche & Roe

  • These mini bellinis that can be store bought, top with crème fraiche & your favorite roe.
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Whole Baked or filet of fish: Salmon, Trout, Sole , Grouper or Grilled Shrimp

Roasted Salmon

Roasted Salmon

Stuffed Dover Sole

Stuffed Dover Sole

Oven Roasted Grouper Filets with roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic

Oven Roasted Grouper Filets with roasted tomatoes, onions and garlic

Grilled Shrimp served with grilled yellow peppers and onions, and creamy polenta.

Grilled Shrimp served with grilled yellow peppers and onions, and creamy polenta.

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Yes, JuanCarlos was out in the snow cooking a paella!

Yes, JuanCarlos was out in the snow cooking a paella!

All the above dishes not only would be my choices for Christmas Eve, but these were the dishes I served for a New Year's Party, only I swapped out the linguine & clams for seafood paella.  That dish is one that my 'also good in the kitchen' husband likes to tackle. The fun part about a paella (although not a traditional Italian dish,  is that guests love to watch it come together.)

 

 

If you feel that you have the strength of a mighty Italian, then go for the gold.  Below is a list of some of the most common dishes served during the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  I provided links to recipes from popular sites for your reference.  Please note that I have not tried these recipes. My goal was to do some of the leg work finding  links to make your search less stressful.

•   Baccalà (salt cod) as a salad or fried

•   Baked cod or Baked cod & potatoes

•   Baked Clams casino or a lighter, easier version Clams Casino

•   Cod fish balls in tomato sauce

•   Deep fried calamari

•   Deep fried cod

•   Deep fried fish/shrimp

•   Deep fried scallops

•   Fried smelts

•   Insalata di mare (seafood salad)

•   Linguine with anchovy, clam, lobster, tuna, or crab sauce

•   Marinated or fried eel

•   Octopus salad

•   Oyster shooters

•   Puttanesca traditional tomato sauce with anchovies

•   Scungilli salad (sea snail)

•   Shrimp cocktail traditional version   or Roasted Shrimp Cocktail version

•   Stuffed calamari in tomato sauce

•   Stuffed-baked lobsters

•   Whiting

Whatever you serve, whether it's 7 or 13 fishes, or no fish at all, just remember the most important ingredient of all... LOVE.

After all the fish, leave room for the dessert!                                                                                                                   Photo credit: Paul Majewski     

After all the fish, leave room for the dessert!                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Paul Majewski    

Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays. Eat well. Be well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Creative Spirit - Ron Miller Pottery

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Woodstock, seems to be the ground zero for creative spirits.  And so it was for Ron Miller, who in 1996 took a little pottery class in the famous town.   From that first introduction, he was bitten by the pottery bug.  So inspired by the art form and the work of local potter Nancee Meeker that he asked her to teach him.  At first, the answer was no, but somehow her potter’s wheel did a 360 and she agreed to mentor him.  Fortunately for all of us, because Ron has started his own pottery business, Miller Pottery HVNY.

Ron has always had a spirit full of creativity but like most of us needed to find a way to pay the bills with a ‘regular gig’.  That gig for 25 successful years was the high stakes NYC restaurant industry as a GM, Maitre d’ and Wine Director/Sommelier.  Alas, the creative itch keep scratching and it was time for Ron to spin back to the love that inspired him so many years ago.

I first met Ron over a decade ago during his restauranteur career.  He has always been a consummate professional in all he takes on.  His attention to detail, deep knowledge and commitment to any craft all funnel into a man who always brings his best.  After years of seeing pottery all over his home, it came as little surprise that this would become his creative outlet and new business venture.

Ron’s style follows a few different paths. As an admirer of Matisse’s cut outs, some of Ron’s work incorporate interesting overlays which pay homage to the that style.

Another route is simplicity.  As Ron mentioned to me, he tries to adopt his friend, Alex’s mantra of “Dare to be simple.”  Which seems simple, when in fact, restraint is not always the easiest path to follow.  Ron seems to have gotten the knack.

Creating streamlined and clean shapes with simple swirls of color. Simplicity at is best.

Creating streamlined and clean shapes with simple swirls of color. Simplicity at is best.

Lastly, allow the clay to guide him, letting it take the form and shape it wants to become.

Earthy and organic shapes

Earthy and organic shapes

He uses a low fire earthenware clay for his carved and sawdust, smoked pieces while stoneware clay is employed for his ‘fun and functional’ work.

 

 

Like any artisan workmanship, it takes time and effort and in this case, a true spinning with love.   The process of ‘throwing a shape’, then trimming the clay, then carving and applying a Terra Sigilata.   Adding stains, firing it in the kiln, glaze then re-fire.  Well, you get the picture.  Passion, care and love is required.

 
 

It is a process that is quite literally grown from the earth and is a reflection of the artist himself.  Deeply committed, pure and simple, fun and functional.

 
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You may all remember seeing some of Ron’s pottery in my Clams, Clams, and more Clams post.  I use a set of his small bowls for my prep work known as mise en place (French for everything in its place).  Whenever I’m cooking I cut up, prep all my ingredients and place them in small bowls.  The ones that Ron created are perfect as the sizes are varied which is ideal for various different amounts needed in any recipe.

Juan Carlos and I also have several on Ron’s bigger and more decorative pieces in our home.  Some have been gifted to us and others we have purchased with great glee.  I am a huge fan of giving gifts that are unique and Ron’s pottery lands squarely in that category.  Please check out his pieces on the site.  They make ideal gifts for the holiday season. Ron is continually adding pieces to his website, so If you don't immediately see some of the pieces featured in this post and are interested, please contact him directly via the rwm210@gmail.com.  

Clams, Clams and more Clams

Ok, linguine with clam sauce may not be such new recipe but I would venture to say that everyone has their own little twist to making it.  Back in the day when I didn't have a lot of extra cash, or time to buy fresh clams, I used to buy canned clams.  I bought whole, chopped and minced and used all three types to make a clam sauce.   Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking, "she used CANNED clams".  The girl who touts 'buy what is fresh.'  Sometimes, a girl had to do what a girl had to do when fresh wasn't available, when $$$ were not available and when that was what was in the cupboard. (And if memory serves, shhhh, the canned version was quite tasty.) But I've grown up since then and realized that if you can't get fresh just wait till you can.  And such a day arose. With the beautiful summer breeze, the unlimited sunshine, and a glorious Sunday with no plans, I embarked on RE-creating the 3 clam recipe but with fresh clams.  

Like with any recipe, building up flavor is the key.  Here are the key items.

I love using small bowls for mise en place (which in French means "everything in its place", your set up)  Ron Miller artfully handcrafted these perfectly sized bowls that work just great.  They come in various sizes and depths for all the different items you need for prep.  Check out his site,   Miller Pottery HVNY

I love using small bowls for mise en place (which in French means "everything in its place", your set up)  Ron Miller artfully handcrafted these perfectly sized bowls that work just great.  They come in various sizes and depths for all the different items you need for prep.  Check out his site, Miller Pottery HVNY

The Stars!

The Stars!

Ingredients

Littlenecked Clams
Shortnecked Clams
BBQ Clams
2 shallots, minced
6-8 garlic cloves, sliced
1 1/4 c White wine
3 cups grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil
red pepper flakes, optional
2/3 c parsley, chopped
1 T fresh Thyme

Instructions

Sauté shallots, garlic until softened and red pepper flakes.  Add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes breakdown.

Since there are three sizes of clams, it is best to cook in stages, as the little ones don't need as much time and will get tough if you put them all in together.  

Big one first

Big one first

Next size goes in next

Next size goes in next

These babies starting to open and release their essence of the sea!

These babies starting to open and release their essence of the sea!

Add the largest clams first and add 1/4 cup wine and cover.  After about 5-8 minutes or until the clams just begin to open.  Add the 2nd batch of clams with 1/2 cup of wine and cover.  After 5 minutes or so add the smallest clams adding the thyme and 1/2 the parsley and the last 1/2 cup of wine. Cover and let cook for another 5-8 minutes until all clams are opened. You shouldn't need to add salt to this dish since the clams emit the nature salt of the sea but taste the sauce to check if seasoning needs adjusting for salt and the red pepper flakes, depending on much heat you like.  Right before serving, top with the remaining chopped parsley.

Of course, this dish is perfect with linguine, but can also be served with polenta or crusty bread.   Do not forget to enjoy this with a crisp white or rose wine.  I would highly recommend a Spanish Albariño or French Rose.  JC and I love having this on a Sunday afternoon where the two of us just sit in front of a big bowl and have at it.  My dad is a huge seafood fan and we try to make this for him when we can.  When he is not around, we torture him by sending photos.  I guess that is kinda mean.  

It's summer time and this dish is a great starter for a BBQ.  Place a big bowl on the table and watch the party take on a new life.  Your guests will love just digging.  What better way to begin a meal than to share gifts from the sea.  Party of 10 or party of 2, clams, clams and more clams!