There’s a lot to love about the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The seven-fish feast (which can be as elaborate as seven fish-themed dishes or as simple as a big cioppino packed with piscine options) is an Italian tradition on Christmas Eve. It’s also one that Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, two award-winning Italian-American chefs in New York City, observe. The members of our Chefs’ Collective have a new cookbook out, Italian American, and they love the Christmas Eve Italian tradition.
It’s also a very personal event for the couple. Angie’s grandmother, who passed this October, “always had a huge Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve,” the two recall. About 45 people would pile into Angie’s grandparents’ basement for a huge meal cooked by her nonna. “Everyone gathered around one very long table and shared a meal that started with pasta dressed in fresh tomato sauce that grandma would jar every summer, then moved into elaborate seafood dishes like octopus salad, braised eel and fried baccalà (salt cod).”
Angie and Scott are intent on carrying on this special Italian-American tradition with the memory of Angie’s grandmother’s feasts as inspiration. They adore the Christmas season and we’re thrilled to share their recipes.
There’s something about fruit tucked in alongside greens that really whets the appetite for the feast to come. That’s especially true when there are vinegary or fiery elements present. This salad boasts both, with rice vinegar, lemon and Sriracha balancing honey and sugar in the dressing (which can be made ahead of time!) Radicchio, Granny Smith apples and fennel find a creamy foil in Robiola Bosina cheese. Hazelnuts add crunch and make an attractive garnish.
“Oreganata” is a popular preparation in Italian-American cuisine, but “clams are tops, as far as we’re concerned,” Scott and Angie write in their book. “This is our riff on clams oreganata, made spicy and named after our beloved Frank’s hot sauce.” Awesome. Their grandmothers would apply it to artichokes, fish and shrimp. The topping for the clams can be pulled together in advance, and you are going to want to drink that ranch-esque dressing with a glass. As is true of the salad above, the two would serve this with cold Vermentino.
Don’t worry; though Scott laughs that these yummy fillets have “the muscle memory of fried fish,” sesame-seared fish with Sicilian red pesto is just that: pan-seared. You can make the sun-dried tomato-almond pesto three days in advance, promise the chefs. (You can also, we bet, swap in extra in place of Romesco in other dishes). The two serve these beauties with their lasagna as a main course along with a light red. They like Nero D’Avola, “a favorite of ours that comes from the area where Angie’s grandfather grew up in Sicily.”
Yes, you should have something sweet to finish, and no, your dessert needn’t contain fish. If tiramisù sounds too heavy, then have a delicate and light zeppole. You can make the syrup and batter in advance (sensing a theme??) but fry them to order if you can. Pour little glasses of Marsala to sip alongside. That’s how Scott and Angie power through, and what they’d serve with these. “It’s earthy and complex yet not too sweet and will hold up well to the sweet honey zeppole.”
Then lie down. It’s been a night! Happy holidays!
Reprinted with permission from Italian American by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli. Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Christopher Testani. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.