THE FEAST of THE 7 FISH ITALIAN CHRISTMAS
by Italian Cookbook Author Daniel Bellino-Zwicke …
“La Vigilia” The
Feast of The 7 Fish …. Italian Christmas
MyAunt Helen used to make the famous Italian Christmas Eve Dinner, “The Feast of
7 Fishes,” The 7 Fish of the Seven Sacraments. I know she made it because I
used to hear her talking about it when I was a little kid. Although I shared many
wonderful meals with my dear Aunt Helen, I never had the pleasure of having the
famous Christmas Eve Dinner “La Vigilia” Feast of Seven Fish with her. We
always had Christmas Eve dinner with the immediate family and Aunt Helen had
the Christmas Eve with her brother and sister and other family members. Aunt
Helen was born in Salerno, Italy and was my Uncle Franks (1 of my Mother’s 3
brothers) better half. So for our Christmas Dinner my mother would make an Antipasto
of Salami, Provolone, Peppers, and Olives, followed by Baked Ziti and a Baked
Ham studded with cloves and Pineapple rings.
The first time I ever had the
mystical dinner was about 12 years ago with my cousin Joe, his family and my
girlfriend Duyen. We had been talking about this famous Italian Feast a few
weeks previous, and were thinking of making it.
Joe told me he wanted to have
the Christmas Eve
Meal of The Feast of The 7 Fishes, known in Italy as La Viglia (The Vigil) or “La Festa Dei Sette
Pesci,” which is also known in Italian-America as The Feast of The 7 Fish, that
signify the 7 Sacraments. Now, how’s all that for a mouthful?
This Dinner, La Viglia originated in Southern Italy, especially in and around
the environs of Napoli. The Feast of The 7 Fish is a Southern Italian tradition
that does not exist in the rest of Italy, it is of the South. La Viglia, or
“The Feast of the Seven Fishes” as it is known to Italian-Americans
commemorates the waiting (Vigil) of the Baby Jesus to be Born at Midnight and
the Seven Fish represent the Seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Some also believe
that the Seven Fish might signify the 7 Days of Creation, or The Seven Deadly
Sins, but most believe the 7 Fish pertain to the Seven Sacraments.
So Joe asked me if I wanted to
make this festive and all important dinner, to perform the ceremony. He didn’t
need to ask twice. I had never made it before and was dying to do so. For a long time I had yearned to partake in
this celebrated old Southern Italian Ritual, and this was my chance. Naturally I was excited, so was Joe. The
anticipation of the Great Feast to come was of happy expectations and
And what for the menu? I know Aunt Helen made
Bacala, Shrimp Oreganata, Mussels, Baked Clams, Calamari, Octopus, and eel, all
much Loved Southern Italian (especially Napoli and Sicily) Creatures of the
Sea. We decided which fish we wanted
and how to
cook each one. Much thought and
planning went into the menu and its execution.
Joe wanted; Langoustines, Lobster, and Bacala. Alexandra asked if I would
make Stuffed Calamari. We also decided on Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Clams Oreganata,
and Cozze al Posillipo. The menu was set. Duyen helped me with the Calamari
which we stuffed with Shrimp, parsley, breadcrumbs, and Peas. We braised the
Calamari with tomato, White Wine, and herbs. If I must say so myself, the
Calamari came out superbly. The Stuffed
Calamari were a lot of work to make, but well worth the effort as they were a
huge hit with all. The Macari boys, Joey, Edward, and Tommy, as well as sister
Gabriella, Alex, Joe, Duyen,
Jose and Sergio from Barcelona
were all in attendance.
The Mussels Posillipo were cooked
with garlic, white wine, parsley, and tomato. The sauce is great to dip your bread
into. This dish was one of my
mother’s favorites back in the days when few Americans other than those
of Italian origins ever ate these wonderful little bivalves.
Now-a-days every-body does. As a young boy I remember my mother sending me to
Bella Pizza in East Rutherford to get an order of them for her. She always gave
me a few and I have Loved them ever since.
Joe helped me to cook the Langoustines.
They are hard to find and I had to order a ten pound box from Silvano in order to get them.
The best way to cook langoustines is to split them in half and sauté
them on each side in olive oil with a little butter and garlic. We served the
Langoustines the same way as Silvano does as we feel his recipe is the best and
everybody loves them that way. The
Langoustines are served with a salad of thinly shaved fennel and celery dressed
in olive oil and lemon with some split cherry tomatoes. Absolutely delicious!!!
The Lobsters we prepared the
best way possible, the New England way, steamed and served simply with drawn butter
and lemon wedges. There’s nothing better on Earth, well except for Sunday Sauce
Well, that Christmas Eve Dinner
The Feast of Seven Fishes was quite a wonderful experience. It was a huge success
but quite a bit too much work and actually, too much food, everyone was kind of
full already by the fifth fish. The following year we decided on incorporating
the Seven Fish into three courses instead
of seven separate ones as it’s just
too much, too much to
eat and too much to cook, a lot of work,
and who needs to work that hard
on Christmas. It was a good decision. We
still had 7 different fish, which is a must. Serving these 7 Fish in three
courses was a good idea as it is much more manageable that way, both to cook
and to eat.
On this Feast of
The 7 Fish in “3 Courses” we decided to make the Stuffed Calamari, which
I would not have chosen again because it
was a lot of work, but it was
Alex and Joe’s favorite and they said that it was a must. This was our
Antipasto Course. Alexandra and her mom
helped me, so the amount of work was cut
divided into three, “A good thing.”
The stuffed calamari took care of two of the
seven the shrimp that were stuffed into the squid.
The second course (Primi) of Linguine
Frutti de Mare consumed four of the Seven Fish required for the meal. It consisted of Mussels, Clams, Lobster, and Scallops
cooked with garlic, oil, herbs, and just a touch of tomato.
The seventh and final fish was
fresh Cod that I roasted and served with a sweet and sour onion sauce (Bacala
Fresca Agro Dolce). Everybody went bananas for it especially cousin Joe who
raved at each and every dish I put down.
It’s a pleasure cooking for Joe as his passion for eating and for the
Italian American way of life, the food,
the wine, the rituals. Joe truly
Loves and savors the experience, so I always love to cook
for him, Alexandra, their children, or
just about anyone for who savors the experience so well. This goes the same
for my cousin Anthony Bellino his wife Debbie and their
three girls Chrissy, Danna, and
Allison, along with all my
close friends and family.
makes cooking a joy rather than a chore. When cooking for family or friends, you
give two of life’s great gifts, a tasty
Home-Cooked meal combined with a little bit of Love. Scratch that. “A whole lotta Love!”
If you don’t want to go so crazy, with 7 Fish as it’s quite an
undertaking, you should try to do an odd numbers; 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11.
Three (3) is a Nice Number and
Represents the Holy Trinity of The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Buon Natale!
“The Fest of The 7 Fish”
EXCERPTED From The FEAST of THE 7 FISH
by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
Free Recipe From Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
PESCE en SOAR “SWEET & SOUR FISH”
Pesce en Soar is derived from the famous
Venetian Dish “Sarde en Saor” or Soar Sardines. This dish is served in
restaurants, Trattoria, and Wine Bars (Bacaro) all over Venice, but is
especially popular at the many Venetian Wine Bars, known as Bacaro “The House
of Bacchus” in Venice, where the Sarde en Saor is one of many great little
dishes known as “Cichetti” (Small Bites). This dish is also known as Sarde Agro
Dolce in Sicily, Agro Dolce meaning Sweet & Sour.
Pesce en Saor (Sour Fish) is a wonderful
dish to pick for your Feast of The 7 Fish. It is especially great at this meal
or any dinner party as it can and should be prepared a day in advance, as the
fish needs to marinate in the sweet and sour onions.
1 ½ pounds Monkfish Filet cut into ¾” medallions
3 mediumOnions, peeled and sliced ¼” thick
5 tablespoons Olive Oil
5 tablespoons Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar
4 tablespoons Sugar
5 tablespoons Raisons
Sea Salt & ground Black Pepper to taste
Flour (about 6 tablespoon 2-3 Tablespoons Fresh chopped Parsley or Chives
1) Place onions in a large frying pan with Olive Oil and cook over low heat for 25 minutes.
Raisons in hot water for 20 minutes then drain.
sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, and raisons to onions and cook 3 minutes. Remove
from heat and let cool.
Monkfish with salt & pepper. Dust each piece of fish into flour. Shake off
olive oil or vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Cook fish in pan
about 1 ½ minutes per side over a medium heat until all the fish is cook. Put
on a plate and let cool to room temperature.
6) In a
shallow glass or ceramic Casserole Dish, place
a third of
the onion mixture across the bottom of the casserole. Then place a layer of
half the fish over these onions. Place a third of the onions over the fish,
the remaining fish. Top with remaining onions. Cover tightly and place in the
refrigerator overnight (or at least 2 hours) to serve the next day.
serve remove the fish at least 45 minutes before serving. Place two pieces of
fish on each person’s plate in a crisscross fashion. Garnish, by sprinkling
Chives or Parsley over top.
NOTE: You can serve Buffet Style, leaving the Pesce
en Saor in the casserole or other nice serving dish for guest to help
themselves. You can also place a piece of toasted bread on plate or nice slice
of ripe tomato, or Cucumber, then top with Fish and Onions.
.. You can use practically any fish you like for this preparation. Good
alternate choices of fish would be; Sardines, Swordfish, Shrimp, Sea Scallops,
or any fish that you might catch yourself. And remember, this dish is not just
for The Feast of The 7 Fish but any day of the year. An optional garnish that
is very nice for this dish is toasted Pignoli Nuts sprinkle over the top.
Daniel Bellino’s Recipe For STUFFED CALAMARI Is IN
THE FEAST of THE 7 FISH
The Feast of The 7 FISH is Available in Paperback & Kindle on AMAZON.com
- The Seven Virtues – faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice
- The Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride
- The Seven Sacraments – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance or reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and marriage
- Seven days it took God to create the world
- The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgment), fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety (reverence), fear of the Lord (wonder and awe)
- The number of days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem
- Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fish – Jesus fed 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish
- Miracle of the Seven Loaves and Fish – Jesus fed 4,000 people with only seven loaves and fish
- Biblical perfection – biblical number for divinity is three and the most perfect earthly number is four, so combining them represents perfection, God on Earth, or Jesus Christ
- 10. The Seven Hills of Rome