Fresh Fridays 
December 13, 2013
  Vol. V, No. 25      
Every family has its own Christmas traditions, many of which are culturally based and often involve a lot of eating. But one of the most spectacular culinary traditions comes from Italian roots. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, as it is known in the Italian-American community, is often a multi-coursed family affair.

Although the name of the celebration seems to be unique to American festivities, the tradition traces back to the Italian custom of observing a vigil on Christmas Eve in anticipation of the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. The observance meant fasting, or abstaining from eating meat and dairy, so the dinner before midnight mass consisted largely of seafood dishes. 

Kathleen DePasquale, an Italian-American woman from Rhode Island, feels compelled to keep cultural traditions alive in her family and to pass family customs on to her son. Kathleen graciously shared her family's Christmas Eve traditions with us:

Throughout my childhood, my experiences around food were accompanied by family both immediate and extended and this was most certainly true at Christmas. Even today, the written summaries that I have accumulated and the recipes for the Feast are never far from reach.

The history of the celebration recalls the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that there are seven Sacraments, thus the name "Feast of the Seven Fishes." This fact is debated every year among people who write about this tradition, but this is where my family based its belief.

It takes weeks to prepare all the goodies that make up the final presentation. The highlights include: potato omelet, a remembrance plate honoring my grandfather who made the most amazing creation with mashed potato as the base; roasted red pepper salad; and baked macaroni and cheese casserole, which is the centerpiece of the evening honoring my mom. The feast continues with seven fish dishes including baccala (salt cod) salad, baked stuffed shrimp, baked cod, fried smelts and eel, baked salmon, and frutti di mare (shellfish). Other side dishes are prepared based on dietary restrictions of some of the guests.

I also make at least seven kinds of cookies for a tray to present for dessert along with torrone (nougat). This event would not take place on such a grand scale if not for my son's love of our Italian heritage and his helping me make it more authentic.
Kathleen's son James has not only helped her sustain family traditions, but has also created a Facebook page dedicated to the Feast of the Seven Fishes to inspire others and allow them to take pride in their Italian-American heritage.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes beautifully illustrates many of the principles of the Mediterranean Diet: enjoying the pleasures of the table with family and friends; making meals from fresh, minimally processed ingredients; and including heart- and brain-healthy seafood in your regular meal rotation. In the spirit of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and to inspire your own holiday (or any day) cooking, we offer seven seafood dishes this week.

Click on a recipe title or photo below for the full recipe.

Recipes in this Issue
Baccala Salad
Christmas Carp
Seafood Cioppino
Linguine with Clam Sauce
Spicy Fish Lebanese Style
Tuna, Artichoke, and Spinach Dip
Salmon Sliders

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Kathleen DePasquale makes this traditional salt cod salad for her Feast of the Seven Fishes. The baccala needs to soak in the refrigerator for three days prior to making the salad.  

Recipe and photo courtesy of Kathleen DePasquale 

In her 1902 cookbook With a Saucepan over the Sea; Quaint and Delicious Recipes from the Kitchens of Foreign Countries, Adelaide Keen offers a recipe for Christmas Carp "as cooked in Poland and Italy on December 24, for supper."

Cookbook and recipe available online from Michigan State University's Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project
Seafood Cioppino          

You can use the seafood listed in the recipe, or be creative and simmer an assortment of fresh, local seafood in this classic rich broth.    

Recipe and photo courtesy of High Liner Foods by arrangement from the National Fisheries Institute 

This easy recipe can grace a holiday table or make a great weeknight dinner. Canned clams are a great pantry staple if you live in an area without access to fresh seafood.

Recipe courtesy of The Meal Makeover Moms, authors of No Whine with Dinner, by arrangement with the National Fisheries Institute; photo copyright Focha - Fotolia

This recipe is great for adding variety to your fish recipe repertoire. The tahini and chili pepper add richness and heat to the mild flavor of the fish. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Al Wadi Al Akhdar 

Serve this dip as an appetizer with bread rounds or whole-grain crackers, or spoon it into mushroom caps for an easy stuffed mushroom appetizer.

Recipe courtesy and photo courtesy of Starkist by arrangement with the National Fisheries Institute

Pre-made and refrigerated, these salmon cakes make perfect heat-and-eat appetizers or small plates for holiday dinner parties. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of 
Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.   

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit:     

 Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)        



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