I am not of Italian heritage, but starting from a young age I have had a longing to do an all-out Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve dinner. My family traditionally had our dinner on Christmas Eve, with an extended-family dinner at my grandparent’s house on Christmas day, and around the age of thirteen I started making some fairly elaborate dinners. However, the seven fishes dream never transpired because there were family members who didn’t like fish.
If you are not familiar with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, it is a traditional Italian “fasting” meal (meaning abstaining from meat), which unfolds on Christmas Eve. There is some debate about the actual number of fishes to be served, and whether seven is really the golden number. I was discussing this with some fellow foodies over dinner at Volta restaurant, in Boulder (where we had a great chilled calamari salad that would be lovely for this feast), and much Googling revealed that the number is thought to be based upon the seven sacrements or, alternatively, the seven hills of Rome. The general agreement is that so long as you are serving a lot of fish, you are doing it right. In my preparation for the actual meal I prepared some dishes that celebrate seafood, and I sourced my ingredients largely from the Whole Foods seafood counter. A beautiful appetizer that takes only minutes to prepare, seared sea scallops finished with a little cream and some blue crab roe is a great way to use expensive ingredients in a way that will serve a lot of people:
Whole Foods does not carry any “red-rated” fish or shellfish, which is a designation set up by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to ensure sustainablity and best practices (you can find out more about the ratings here). Anything you buy at Whole Foods will be a designated green (best choice) or yellow (good alternative) choice. Given the complexity of purchasing seafood, this is a great service to people who want to buy sustainable products, because the research is done for you.
Seafood lasagna is another option for stretching your expensive seafood items to feed a number of people. I made a grain-free seafood lasagna using Cappello’s excellent grain-free pasta, filled with shrimp, crab, and a little lobster. Cappello’s is a Colorado company but their products are also available by mail order.
I will be rounding out my menu with a Caeser salad with white anchovies, my simple seafood stew, and this beautiful, olive-crusted baked fish:
I used grouper for this, but you can use whatever type of fish you like that looks nice and fresh. The tapenade can be made in advance, and you can use any sort of olives you enjoy–I used a combination of kalamata and castelvatranos. If your fillets are on the small side you can use any leftover tapenade to dress warm vegetables or to stuff some mushrooms. Leftover tapenade is never a bad thing.
- 1 1/2 cups of your favorite, well-drained olives
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 4 fish fillets, 4-6 ounces each
- In a food processor, pulse the olives, pine nuts, garlic, capers, lemon juice, and white pepper to a chunky paste. Refrigerate until ready to use (can be made a day or more in advance).
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a baking dish that will hold all of the fish in a single layer. Place the fish flllets in the prepared dish, and press some of the olive mixture in a thin layer over each piece of fish. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Serve immediately.
Other nice menu options would be Shrimp and Coconut Fritters, Crab Puffs, Wild Sardine and Grapefruit Salad, or Salt and Pepper Shrimp. My adoration of seafood is evident by looking at my Fish and Shellfish recipe tab, so browse there if you need more ideas.