Feast of the Seven Fishes in Italy: Myth or Tradition?
Does Feast of the Seven Fishes Exist in Italy?
Feast of the Seven Fishes is the most beloved meal of the year in an Italian-American household. It comes from the tradition of "La Vigilia", a Christmas Eve vigil and seafood feast. The standards include baked clams, fried smelts, baccalá, mussels, scungilli (conch), linguine with red clam sauce, shrimp scampi and stuffed lobster tails. But is the tradition the same in Italy? No. While people in coastal towns and cities throughout Italy do eat fish and seafood on Christmas Eve, nowhere in Italy are seven fish dishes required. But just as every region of Italy has its own distinct cuisine, so does Italian-American cuisine. Seven fishes you could say, is our thing.
New ideas for La Vigilia
If you're looking to add something different to your seven fishes lineup this year, here are some inspirations from meals we've enjoyed on recent small group tours to Naples, Amalfi Coast and the Cilento coast.
Scialatielli (pronounced shah-lah-TEE’EHL-lee) are a fat, hand cut pasta made famous by an Amalfi chef in the 1960s. Prior, they were made only by the home cooks of Amalfi and Atrani. Thicker and more chewy than regular pasta, they pair gorgeously with seafood. I've seen scialatielli at one restaurant in Naples, but truly, you must go sit down in a piazza in Amalfi to try it or make them at home.
Pair with Greco di Tufo from Terredora di Paolo Greco, 2014.
Baccalá or dried salt cod used to be a staple food that for decades people were glad to leave behind. But right now baccalá is enjoying a bit of Renaissance and chefs in the University district are celebrating the food of their grandparents and good old salt cod at La Baccalariá
They've incorporated baccalá into many unexpected dishes including eggplant parmigiana (it worked!), but my favorite was their good old fashioned fritto misto -- battered and deep fried pieces of cod served in a little deep fry basket.
Pair with Quintodecimo Falanghina Via del Campo 2014
Cilento: Pasta con ceci & grated bottarga
Our home in Italy has been in the news a lot lately for the new study that looks at the large number of nonagenarians along the Cilento coast. The key, once again, is the Mediterranean Diet. The term was first coined by the American Dr. Ancel Keys who lived in Cilento and wrote about the outstanding health and longevity. Ceci or chick peas are a huge part of the Cilento diet and pasta con ceci with rosemary is a dish I make often. The addition of shaved bottarga makes an otherwise hearty dish from cucina rustica into something very special. Bottarga is not inexpensive, but a little bit goes a long way. It's certainly worth the splurge for a Christmas Eve dish that is both healthy and spectacularly good.
Pair with San Salvatore Calpazio IGP Paestum Greco
Arthur Avenue: Squid Ink Fettucine with Sea Urchin
Every week Feast On History offers an Arthur Avenue walking food tour of the Little Italy neighborhood in the Bronx, NY. In this unique enclave of a family-run businesses, many of which have been around for 100-years, it's possible to have a taste of both old and new Italy. Our favorite fish shop is Cosenza's where the prices and quality are astounding. Lines wrap around the block in preparation for La Vigilia. Look for me there on Christmas Eve morning or join me the week before for a special holiday themed food tour of Arthur Avenue.
This might be my favorite dish on the whole list. It looks fancy, but it's so easy you hardly need a recipe. Buy a bag of black squid ink fettucine at Borgatti. Boil it in salted water until ready (5-7 minutes), transfer from the pot to large pasta bowl and toss with freshly shucked sea urchin (known as ricci in Italian or uni in Japanese) from Cozenza's and a 1/4 stick of melted butter. Quite simply, it's heaven.
Pair with with Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina di Sannio, 2014
Looking for a unique holiday gift inspired by Italy?
Our "Tears of Parthenope" necklace is inspired by the Neapolitan myth of Parthenope, the siren who cried so much her tears filled the Bay of Naples. This is a Feast On History exclusive created by writer, artist and futurist Rita J. King. Her "Treasure of the Sirens" jewelry line was inspired by amphora deposited on the bottom of the Tyrrhenian Sea during ancient shipwrecks.
The amphora is a textured gold plated stainless steel fabricated by a 3D printer. Necklace includes a 30" chain, two aquamarine Swarovski crystals and a scroll inside the amphora with a fragment of the song of the sirens: "Sail on, wiser!"
Vino Travels -Christmas in Molise
The Wining Hour - A Venetian Holiday: Wine, Food,Tradition
Next month Susannah from Avvinare will host coastal reds and whites along with foods and travel to coastal regions on January 7th.