Christmas Eve Feast: Seven Fishes
While some families are slicing the holiday ham or carving the crown roast of pork on Christmas Eve, many Italians and Italian-Americans are preparing a meal with not just one star ingredient, but seven. It's an Italian tradition to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, and with that comes a long, relaxing meal of fish-forward dishes. The strictest adherents to the seven-fishes tradition will tell you that indeed there should be seven fish on the dinner table, but for the sake of simplicity, consider any and all seafood, including shellfish, to count toward your final fish tally. The key to committing to cook seven different kinds of seafood is spreading out the dishes throughout the meal; instead of preparing seven whole fish for what would be an excessively large main dish spread, offer perhaps three small appetizers, a soup, pasta, then entrée plus a side salad, each with seafood as the focus. Check out Food Network's favorite Feast of the Seven Fishes menu below, then tell us in the comments: What's your favorite kind of fish?
To start the meal, offer a spread of simple but hearty appetizers, like Ina's Roasted Shrimp Cocktail pictured above. This top-rated recipe features quickly cooked shrimp that turn out deliciously tender every time and a fuss-free dipping sauce made with ketchup, chili and Worcestershire sauces. Paula's Hot Crab dip (pictured right) is another crowd-pleasing starter, boasting a decadent combination of lump crabmeat and a duo of pepper Jack and Parmesan cheeses. The beauty of this dish is that it can be prepared, cooked and served in a single casserole dish, so cleanup is a cinch. For an indulgent treat, serve Bobby's refreshingly light Lobster-Avocado Cocktail, made with fresh lime juice and tarragon and ready to eat in just 15 quick minutes. Although lobster is an expensive purchase, especially if you're preparing to feed a crowd, serving it like Bobby does — in small portions with other filling ingredients — helps you stretch your dollar and get the most lobster meat for your money.
For your first sit-down course, tuck into a warming bowl of Food Network Magazine's Butternut Squash and Mussel Soup (pictured left), made with just a handful of ingredients. The key to working with mussels is to clean them thoroughly before cooking. After rinsing the mussels in cold water, just pull off their beards — the strings of seaweed that dangle off of the shells — then they'll be ready to join a flavor-packed mixture of white wine, garlic and chile pepper. Finish this easy, comforting soup with seasonal butternut squash and top with nutty Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.
No feast is complete with a piping-hot bowl of pasta, and Giada's 30-minute Spaghetti With Clams is a tried-and-true classic. She sautes sweet shallots and garlic in olive oil then adds Manila clams, a splash of white wine and herbs to complete this simple but satisfying seafood-based sauce. Just like mussels, clams should be cleaned prior to cooking; a quick scrub is all it takes to remove any sand stuck in the creases of their shells.
For a five-star main dish, look to Anne's Grilled Salmon With Herb and Meyer Lemon Compound Butter, an easy, 30-minute meal made with just a handful of ingredients. A quick mix of soft butter, lemon zest, herbs and garlic is all it takes to make the compound butter, which melts on moist grilled salmon. Serve Giada's Calamari, Tomato and Caper Salad as a quick side to feature the seventh and final type of seafood in the feast. She cooks sliced calamari with fresh tomatoes and garlic, then tops the mixture with a tangy dressing of lemon juice, salty capers and parsley.