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Christmas Eve - Seven Fish, Seven Ways



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"Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like
a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart...
filled it, too, with melody that would last forever."

~ Bess Streeter Aldrich (Song of Years)

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Christmas Eve – Seven Fish, Seven Ways

Edward Giobbi, © 1988

Christmas Memories with Recipes icon
1994, Wings Books, a division of Random House
Value Publishing, Inc.


(from the Editors): “Artist and author Edward Giobbi has combined both his vocations in an unusual Christmas Eve custom – seven fish served seven ways
– a custom that may have grown from the observation of a fast day. Dining on family-crafted dishes and place mats, the Giobbis have created a warm and
festive evening that reaches out to friends of all faiths…”


“Christmas Eve is the most important holiday of the year for our family and has been since my childhood in Waterbury, Connecticut. It was always wonderful,
even during the Depression, when there were very few gifts and very little money
for food. The mystery of the Nativity and a feeling of good will were still strong
and steadfast, and somehow my parents always managed to scrape together a
wonderful dinner on Christmas Eve despite the hard times…
…My mother came from a small town in the central part of Italy near the
Adriatic, by the name of Centobuchi. There the tradition was to serve fish on Christmas Eve. She had brought her traditions with her to this country, and
despite the Depression we ate fish, marvelous fish, served different ways on Christmas Eve. It was a magical time. We ate in the kitchen, which was heated
by a cast-iron kerosene stove, just my mother, my father, my two sisters, and me.
The table was bountiful, and there was a tangible, reverberating joy of being
surrounded by the mystery of the Nativity…

…It reached a point in the late 1930s when the tradition of serving seven
different fish seven different ways took hold… I was told that the seven fish represented the seven sacraments. For my sisters and me, these seven courses
were utterly captivating. And although, as with most children, fish was not
our favorite food, we looked forward to the dinner with jittery anticipation and actually counted the courses to make certain seven, not six or five, appeared…
… When I got married, my wife and I continued the tradition of my family’s Christmas Eve dinner, and our children – like my sisters and me – though
not especially fond of fish, eagerly awaiting the holiday, counting the fish
dishes to be certain there were seven. Our children are now adults and the
custom lives on through them. Tradition is a form of constancy [a precious and
rare commodity these days!] and it seems to me that constancy of a pleasurable experience is something everyone quietly hungers for, and needs.
Fish is consumed on Christmas Eve in Italy perhaps because of the importance
of the symbolism of fish in the Catholic Church. Our dinner is difficult to
prepare, but my mother looked forward to it, as do I. To prepare each fish
properly, it should be cooked just before serving, unless the recipe indicates otherwise. This means your selection of recipes and timing has to be very
accurate, especially since the majority of the recipes should not be prepared
ahead of time.
The following menu is a typical Christmas Eve dinner served in our home.
Final decisions for the menu depend upon whatever fish are available at
that time.”

Baked Stuffed Littleneck Clams (Vongole Ripiene) *
(a recipe my mother always made on Christmas Eve)
Grilled Long Island Scallops
Fried Whitebait with Lemon Wedges
Shrimp and Artichoke Hearts San Benedetto Style *
(Scampi e Carciofi alla San Benedetese)
Linguine with Crab Sauce (Linguini con Granchi) *
Baked Cod with Broccoli de Rape * (below)
Cuttlefish with Fresh Peas (Sepe con Piselli)
Ellie’s Pecan Pie and
Almond Biscotti
Ellie’s Bread
My best homemade wines reserved for Christmas Eve


Baked Cod and Broccoli di Rape

Allow 1/2 slice per person for Christmas Eve dinner

10 cups broccoli di rape or
1 large bunch broccoli
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped fine
4 slices cod, haddock, or bass,
each about 1 inch thick
1/2 cup dry white wine
24 dried black olives
Salt and hot pepper flakes to taste

Trim the broccoli di rape by discarding its tough leaves and tough, thick stems. Peel the tender stems and reserve. Cut the tender leaves into
bite-size pieces. Cook the rape in boiling water for 3 minutes and drain
well (if you use broccoli, cook for 5 minutes). In a large, wide skillet sauté
the rape in 4 tablespoons of hot olive oil with half the chopped garlic for
5 minutes, turning it often. The rape is now ready to be combined with
the fish.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees for about 15 minutes.
Arrange the fish slices in a baking pan and add 4 tablespoons oil, the remaining garlic, the wine and olives. Arrange the rape around the fish
slices and add salt and hot pepper flakes to taste. Bake the fish,
uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes, basting it occasionally, until
it separates easily from the bone when tested with a fork or the tip of a
sharp knife. Serve the fish with the rape. Garnish with a drizzling of
extra virgin olive oil if desired.

Featured Archive Recipes:
Charlie Trotter's Olive Oil-Poached Cod with
Roasted Tomatoes and Broccoli Rabe

Daniel Boulud's Cod, Clams and Chorizo Basquaise

More Christmas Memories:
Robert Finigan
Marcella Hazan
Jenifer Lang
Jacques Pepin
Julee Rosso
Helen Witty

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