Christmas Eve (along with every Sunday) is yet another time I treasure the gift of being Italian. Traditionally, on Christmas Eve we enjoy a seven-course meal consisting of all fish dishes. The fish courses range from Calimari to Scungelli to Baccala (salted Cod). This is a tradition that traces back to Southern Italia. There are many reasons cited for the Seven types of fish (number of sacraments in the Catholic church and other religious reasons) but I never cared much about the official reason, to me it just means the best meal of the year.
This year we started with an Antipasto – three different types of cheeses, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and olives. The antipasto was served with a homemade sausage bread.
From there we moved on to three of the fish dishes:
-Baked Clams Casino (fresh oven roasted clams topped with roasted red pepper, two thin strips of crossed center cut non-cured Sunday Bacon, and finally, with parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice).
-Shrimp wrapped in Pancetta with a white wine sauce. This was a really simple recipe that I recommend trying at home as an appetizer. Thirty-Six Fresh Shrimp, de-veined and cleaned, wrapped in thin sliced Pancetta (secured with a toothpick) and cooked in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and white wine.
-Bite Sized Mini Crab cakes breaded and cooked to a crunchy outside, yet moist on the inside perfection.
For the two main courses we moved on to a filet of sole dipped in a parmesan egg wash, and then into freshly made breadcrumbs with Italian Seasoning. The filet was then pan fried to a golden brown. The filets were crunchy on the outside and tender and flaky on the inside.
The second main course was meant to be a pasta dish that used four lbs of small cockle clams. The clams were purchased live from a local store and we cleaned and shucked them that night. The dish was simple, delicate and incredibly delicious. We steamed the clams open in a pot with garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, white wine and about a tablespoon of tomato paste to make a light Fra Diavolo sauce. Coincidentally, we decided not to cook the pasta that went along with the clams as we were less people than usual and were already full. I still ate about 30-40 clams.
You will notice that this year, as much as it pains me to say, we strayed from the seven fish rule. In years past the two additional types of fish would have been a mix of fried calamari and scallops, or mussels in pasta.
We finished the meal with coffee/tea and Christmas cookies. I went to bed that night not only eager for Christmas morning, but also with a great sense of pride in my Italian heritage & traditions, and hungry for two more fish dishes.--DBlock