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Italians, and folks with dear Italian relatives, usually celebrate Christmas Eve with a Feast of Seven Fishes, which was historically served after a 24 hour fasting period and commemorates the Vigilia di Natale.

Although fasting is a healthy concept that Biosyntrx wholeheartedly supports, pre-Christmas fasting doesn’t seem to be popular with many people. My brother-in-law introduced our family to the Seven Fish tradition more than 30 years ago.  After a few years our family, and apparently many others, simplified the seven separate fish dish feast concept to a one pot feast including seven types of fish. This recipe is casual dinner-party-perfect most anytime.

Ingredients: Serves 8

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 5-6 anchovy fillets, drained
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cups good-quality dry white wine
  • 3 or 4 cups chicken stock or clam juice
  • 2 cans chunky-style crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped (2 or 3 tablespoons)
  • A really big handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • About two pounds white fish fillets, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • About one pound shelled crab
  • Salt and pepper
  • About one pound large shrimp, ask for deveined easy-peel shrimp at the seafood counter
  • About one pound sea scallops rinsed and scrubbed clean
  • About one pound or one bag mussels, scrubbed clean and beards removed.
  • About one half pound calamari cut in rounds
  • About one pound littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed clean of dirt and sand.
  • 2 loaves of fresh, crusty bread, for mopping

Directions:

In a large pot over moderate heat combine the olive oil, anchovies, garlic, bay leaf and crushed red pepper to taste. Let the anchovies melt into the oil. They provide natural salt, and the pepper flakes infuse the oil, providing the amount of heat you prefer.

Chop the celery and onion and add to the pot. Sauté the vegetables for a few minutes to soften, then add the white wine. Reduce the wine for a few minutes, then add the chicken stock / clam juice, tomatoes, thyme and parsley.

Bring the sauce back to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low for a few minutes. This dish can be prepared ahead to this point if you chose (perfect for leaving on the stove while you attend Christmas Eve services, or a neighborhood caroling party).

Season the fish chunks with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp, scallops and mussels and cover the pot and cook for five minutes; add the seasoned cod and cook for five or six  more minutes and add the shelled crab for the last one or two minutes, giving the pot a good shake now and again. Don’t stir because it will break up the fish.

Remove the lid and discard any mussels or clams that do not open.

Gather friends and family around and carefully ladle the stew into shallow bowls (over pasta if preferred) and pass crusty bread at the table, preferably sour dough if available.

A reminder; this recipe works with as many different types of fish that you choose to use, so don’t feel like you have to use seven.

For those of you who happen to also love the tradition of drinking a Beaujolais Nouveau (one month old red wine) with your seven fishes, the late autumn 2013 Gamay-based wine got great reviews in the latest Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Unfortunately, this also means it will sell out very fast. So, call your wine seller now and think about buying a bottle for the holidays and others to drink during winter 2013 since most Beaujolais Nouveau is as good as it’s going to get shortly after it’s bottled.  And, don’t listen to folks who tell you that a young Beaujolius won’t go with this dish.  It’s perfect with tomato-based fish dishes and tres chic to own up to drinking and preferring this impish young red wine to celebrate the traditional spirit of Christmas.

My wine expert friend and former neighbor, Karen MacNeil – author of The Wine Bible, once compared drinking Beaujolais Nouveau to eating cookie dough; although not as good as perfectly baked cookies, it’s still a delightful and traditional seasonal treat.

Nutritional Information:  Fish and shellfish are great sources of high quality protein; B and C vitamins, and minerals including sodium, potassium, calcium and iron.

 

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD and the Biosyntrx staff.