The Feast of the Seven Fishes, said to have originated in Southern Italy, celebrates la vigilia di Natale, or waiting for the birth of baby Jesus. In theory, it was the (meatless) meal to break a fasting period before receiving Holy Communion on Christmas Eve. Today, relaxed rules of abstinence have all but eliminated the fasting, paving a sugar plum path for a dusk-to-midnight celebration with Italian pastries, nuts, nougats and fruits, ending with one grand seafood extravaganza, followed by Midnight Mass.
7 Degrees of fish
So where did the number seven come from? Theorists agree numbers symbolize great significance in the Roman Catholic Church, speculating the number seven represents the seven sacraments, among others. Many fish feasts, however, feature 9, 11 or even 13 different dishes, all with a corresponding significant event trailing behind it.
One thing modern times have instilled in us is that "bigger isn't always better." So if 13 fish dishes are not on your Advent calendar this season, think smaller. It's the thought behind the meal along with acts of kindness, charity and gratitude that make this season bright.
If you're not up for a seafood extravaganza of seven or more fish dishes, start with a more manageable number – we suggest these three fish recipes:
Baked cod with lemon-garlic crust
Serving size: 8
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat leave parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cups panko crumbs
- 2 lemons, zested then quartered
- 2 pounds wild cod fish filets
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Add the olive oil, garlic, parsley and thyme to a large skillet and gently warm on low heat for four minutes. Increase the heat to medium and add the panko crumbs. Stir until the panko is well moistened and add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to toast the panko, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Place the cod pieces, side by side, in an oven-safe baking dish (preferably glass). Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper and lemon zest. Generously top each piece of fish with the panko crumbs, gently pressing them into the top of the fish. Evenly pour the melted butter over the panko crumbs.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until the fish is opaque but still moist in the center. (Factor about 10 minutes of baking time per 1" thickness of fish.)
- Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Squeeze lemon wedges over the fish before serving.
Warm calamari salad
Serving size: 8
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon mashed anchovy
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound fresh calamari, cleaned and cut into 1/2 inch rings, slice head in half lengthwise
- 2 large, ripe tomatoes, medium dice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon chopped capers
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh radicchio
- 1/4 cup fresh arugula
- In a bowl, mix together juice, anchovy, sugar, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. Add calamari, and marinate one minute. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add calamari and cook, stirring constantly for two minutes; remove from pan.
- Toss with tomatoes, parsley, basil and capers. Serve warm over a bed of fresh radicchio and arugula.
Smoked salmon dip
Serving size: 8
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 4 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
- 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- In the bowl of a food processor, add garlic, horseradish, salmon, cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until well combined. Transfer mixture to a bowl, and refrigerate 30 minutes before serving. Serve with Italian bread, crudite or crackers.
More holiday recipes
Christmas Eve dinner recipes
Top Chef's Fabio Viviani holiday recipes
Sparkling Christmas punch