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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
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) * (below)
(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 * (below)
(Scampi e Carciofi alla San Benedetese)
Linguine with Crab Sauce (Linguini con Granchi) *
Baked Cod with Broccoli de Rape *
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 Stuffed Littleneck Clams
(Vongole Ripiene)

Serves 8 as part of the antipasto

16 littleneck clams (or mussels)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano or
Pecorino cheese
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
4 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste,
or hot pepper flakes to taste

Inspect the clams and discard any clam that is not completely closed or
that does not close when dropped into cold water. Open the clams,
loosen each one from its shell, and reserve its liquid. Discard the top
shells. Place clams on the half shell on a baking sheet.
Combine the breadcrumbs, oregano, parsley, cheese, olive oil, 2 table-
spoons of the wine, and salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle a generous amount of this stuffing over the top of each clam. Strain the reserved
clam juice and sprinkle it over the stuffing. Pour the remaining 2 table-
spoons of wine into the bottom of the baking sheet.

Preheat the broiler for about 5 minutes. Then broil the clams under high
heat until the breadcrumbs begin to brown. Pour the liquid in the baking
sheet over the clams and serve immediately.


Shrimp and Artichoke Hearts San Benedetto Style
(Scampi e Carciofi alla San Benedetese)

Serves 8 as part of the antipasto

1 pound medium-size raw shrimp in the shells
One (15-ounce) can or 2 jars artichoke hearts
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fine-chopped fresh mint, or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons fine-chopped Italian parsley
Salt and hot pepper flakes or freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook the shrimp in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes, or until pink and just
firm to the touch. Drain at once; when cool, shell and devein them. Slice
the shrimp into pieces about 1/4 inch thick and set aside.
Drain the artichoke hearts and chop into pieces no coarser than rough-cut breadcrumbs. Combine the shrimp and artichokes with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve at room temperature.

Featured Archive Recipes:
Moules au Gratin (Baked Herbed Mussels)
Antipasti from  Mario Batali's 'Simple Italian Food
Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Vinaigrette,
Broccoli Rabe, and Roast Tomatoes

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


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