For Christmas Eve this year I put together a very non-traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes. I apologize to all my traditional Italian friends who may cringe when they see the menu!
That’s a little hard to read so I will go through each of the courses a few at a time. First, a little history on the tradition behind this Feast!
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration. It started in the southern part of Italy (Naples and Sicily). Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself. We may not have eaten red meat, but there was not a lot of abstinence at our table either!
|Clockwise from front: My husband Jerry, Steve V., Deb V., Moi, Dennis M., his wife Diana is snapping the photo.
These days, in America, the meal typically consists of seven different seafood dishes, although there is much lore and variation around the actual number of courses with different religious significance to each number. Many of the traditional dishes are not on my menu; like pupa (octopus), baccala (salt cod), fried eel, smelt, and scungilli (conch). In southern Italy the Feast is known simply as The Vigil (La Vigilia). This celebration commemorates the wait, the Viglia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. And in keeping with tradition our Feast did go on until midnight!
My good friend Debbie brought a fabulous shrimp starter accompanied by a delicious cabernet sauvignon from Nappa Valley, ‘Educated Guess’. I will share the recipe with you in a future blog. It was a perfect way to start our festive celebration!
While her dish was heating, her husband Steve served as bar tender and fixed up some tasty cocktails.
|Thanks Steve for a PERFECT martini!
Our first seated course (technically the second fishes dish) was a Crab Cake. I have made this recipe many times. What I love about it: all crab; very little bread. The recipe is from ’21’ Club in New York City. I have not eaten there, but would love to some day.
TRADITIONAL CRAB CAKES ’21’ CLUB
ON A BED OF MIXED GREENS WITH
CITRUS VINAIGRETTE AND
ROASTED RED PEPPER ROUMELADE
The chef at ’21’ Club uses a squeeze bottle to make the roasted red pepper squiggles, but I could not find my squeeze bottle so filled a zip lock baggie with the roumelade, snipped a corner of the bag, and squeezed the sauce out through it. My squiggles don’t look very pretty, but it sure was good. This was my favorite course.
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch dice (I used a green pepper to carry out the holiday theme.)
6 slices firm white sandwich bread, crusts discarded (Save these for grinding into bread crumbs.)
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked over (I used the crab we bought right off the boat in Empalme, Mexico!)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (I have never used this ingredient when I make crab cakes.)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I also add a 1/2 tsp. of Dijon-type mustard mixed in with the mayo.)
2 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 jalapeno chili, or to taste (I used 1/2), seeded with white pith removed, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.
In a skillet heat 1 Tbsp. oil over moderately high heat until hot, but not smoking. Saute bell peppers until softened. Cool peppers. In a food processor grind bread into fine crumbs.
In a bowl stir together bell peppers, crab, cilantro (if using), 1/4 cup mayonnaise (mustard, if using), Old Bay seasoning, jalapeno, garlic, 2 Tbsp. bread crumbs, black pepper and salt to taste. Chill 20 minutes.
With a 2 oz. ice cream scoop (or just use a large spoon or 1/4 cup measure to create equal sized cakes), scoop crab mixture into 8 portions and pat each into 3/4 inch thick cakes. Spread remaining bread crumbs on a sheet of wax paper and gently press each cake into them, turning it, to coat evenly. To help prevent crumbling during cooking, chill crab cakes, covered loosely at least hour and up to 1 day. I made the day ahead.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a 12 inch skillet heat 1 Tbsp. oil over moderately high heat until hot, but not smoking and saute half the crab cakes (you don’t want to crowd them in the pan or they won’t cook evenly) until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Turn crab cakes carefully and brown other sides. Transfer sauted crab cakes to a baking sheet. Add remaining Tbsp. oil to skillet and saute remaining crab cakes in same manner. On baking sheet, bake all crab cakes 5 minutes to heat through.
Serve with or without topping; with or without salad. Our beverage with this coarse was Enza Proseca/Veneto Doc; sparkling and refreshing with hints of pear and green apple, and light floral and citrus notes. Perfect with the crab!
Our third course was pan-seared New England Cod on a bed of wilted spinach, garlic and tomatoes. I am going to save this one for a future blog and move on to my second favorite course…This was actually our last menu item (prior to dessert that is!).
SCALLOPS ON A BED OF POLENTA
CROWNED WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS
The creation of this recipe is mine, but, I got the recipe for CREAMY BAKED PARMESAN POLENTA on line from the Real Simple site and just had a feeling the scallops would sit well on the polenta and be off-set by the sweet crunch of the pomegranate seeds. I just had a feeling the pomegranate seeds would offer a great “pop” and contrast to the creamy polenta and sublime scallops. Really pleased it all worked! This recipe worked well for this complicated meal as I also was able to prepare the polenta to stage of baking the day before and bake directly before serving night of the party. I also seeded the pomegranate the day prior to the Feast. One pomegranate provides many seeds! Who knew?!? The seeds kept well in a zip lock baggie in the fridge for a little more than a week. Use them on salads, in sandwiches for an extra crunch or top chicken, pork or other seafood with these beautiful, red seeds!
|Jerry is pulling apart the pomegranate to remove seeds.
6 cups water
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup Polenta (not instant or quick-cooking. I used Golden Pheasant brand.)
4 Tbsp. butter
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees if you are baking right away. If not, wait until ready to bake.
Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish. In a large saucepan bring 6 cups water and 2 tsp. salt to boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until polenta is very thick; 10-15 minutes.
Remove form heat and whisk in the butter, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Add salt/pepper as needed. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Either bake until top is set and golden (30-35 minutes) or cover and keep in refrigerator until ready to bake. Bring to room temperature before baking. Once baked, let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
|Diana helping to plate and serve the scallops.
To sear scallops: Heat a large frying pan on high heat with 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Get it to the smoking point. Dry scallops completely with a paper towel. Salt both sides of scallops liberally. Place scallops in pan (do not crowd) and sear on high heat for about 2 minutes; turn over and sear the other side. The cooking time depends on the size of your scallop. Touch them with your finger. The texture should be supple, but not soft.
To plate: Place a scoop of polenta on each plate. Top with 2 scallops and generous amount of pomegranate seeds. Serve. The scallops were served with Poderi di Carlo, Primosic, a very well-balanced white wine from Northern Italy-Fruila-Venezia Ciulla region.
I had SO much help prepping, cooking, and serving this Feast from my husband the day before and from all my guests that evening! It was truly a group effort and one of the most fun meals I can remember. More recipes to come soon!
|Dennis, Jerry, Deb, me, Diana, and Steve…post Feast…rubbing our bellies.
JoJo even looks full! Thank you all for making this evening so much fun!
The beauty of this meal is you can serve any one of these dishes as an entrée or mix and match different courses. Next time I will share the Calamari in housemade red sauce with home made French Bread; Pesce Spada–one of Lydia Bastianch’s famous Sicilian swordfish dishes, and our intermezzo course–Sicilian Lemon Granita.
The final Feast blog will include the two fabulous dishes from our guests-Deb’s shrimp starter and Dennis’s Cedar Planked Alaskan wild-caught Sockeye Salmon. Each course was served with (at least) one wine so we will also discuss those pairings. Oh, and of course, we don’t want to forget the dessert: Rum Cake with home made rum raison ice cream!
WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY, HEALTHY, PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR FILLED WITH
MANY OF YOUR OWN FABULOUS FEASTS!
|Jerry got the award for most colorful shirt!
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