Many families gather around the dinner table and enjoy seafood on Christmas Eve. Called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, this tradition traces its origins to Italy and was brought over to North America by Italian immigrants.
For many Christians, Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the inclusion of seafood reflects the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from eating meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, such as Christmas. The number seven is traced to ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols and biblical references.
While people can enjoy seven entirely different seafood options, it also is customary to serve one or two types of fish seven different ways. This recipe for “Cioppino” from “Soup’s On” (Chronicle Books) by Leslie Jonath and Frankie Frankeny manages to include seven different types of seafood, and it can be modified according to your preferences.
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 white onion, chopped
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced leeks, white part only
4 garlic cloves
6 anchovy fillets or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
1⁄3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 sprigs fresh marjoram
1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 live Dungeness crab (2 to 21⁄2 pounds), cleaned and sectioned, crab fat reserved
8 ounces lingcod or other white fish
1 cup dry white wine
11⁄2 cups tomato purée or peeled, fresh whole tomatoes
8 ounces clams, well scrubbed
4 ounces mussels, scrubbed and debearded
8 ounces raw prawns or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 ounces calamari
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Warm the oil in a heavy, nonreactive pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and sauté until the garlic is golden. Add the anchovies, parsley, marjoram, and pepper flakes and stir to mix. Add the crab and fish and cook until the fish begins to fall apart, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook to reduce the liquid by one-third.
2. Mix together the reserved crab fat, 1 cup water and the tomato purée in a small bowl. Add to the pot, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the clams, mussels, and prawns and cook until the clam and mussel shells begin to open and the prawns turn pink, approximately 3 minutes. Discard any clams or mussels that do not open. Add the calamari and cook until opaque, approximately 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately with a green salad, crusty country bread and white wine.