(Some dishes are so tied to tradition that it wouldn’t be the holiday without them.)
3 Tbs Olive Oil – to coat bottom of large pot
1 Large Onion – roughly chopped
1 Medium Carrot – finely chopped
1 Celery Stalk – finely chopped
1 Bay Leaf
1 Large Lobster or 2 Chicken Lobsters – cut in pieces and shells cracked
½ Cup Sauterne
2 Cups Stock – ½ Chicken, ½ Beef
3 – 4 tbs Tomato Paste
1 Lb Hearty White Fish – your favorite
½ Cup Sauterne
10 Sprigs Fresh Parsley – leaves only
2 tsp Bell’s Seasoning
1 Dozen Little Neck Clams – scrubbed and rinsed
1 Can Oysters – drained through a cheesecloth or strainer
18 – 20 Medium Shrimp – peeled and deveined
1 Lb Squid – optional
1 Can (29 Oz) Scungilli – drained
Heat olive oil in a large pot. Sauté the onion slowly until caramelized. Add carrots and celery and cook until starting to brown. Add the bay leaf and stir well. Add the lobster pieces, cook just until shells are red and remove to add again later. Add Sauterne and cook down for a few minutes. Add stock and tomato paste. (I’m sure when my Little Nonna prepared this for Christmas Eve, fish stock was used.) Stir well and simmer, just until paste has dissolved. At this point you can put on hold until about 15 minutes before you are ready to serve. Best to do this early in the day.
ADDING THE FISH
Parsley, Garlic, Bell’s Seasoning, Sauterne, Fish
Angel Hair Pasta – amount depends on number of people serving
If the stock has cooled, reheat slowly before continuing. Chop parsley with garlic and add to stock. Add Bell’s Seasoning, stir and simmer for a few minutes. Add cut lobster and any juices that accumulated while it rested. Add clams and cook just until clams open, discarding any that do not. Add remainder of the fish and cook just until the white fish is cooked through. Taste for salt and pepper and add more Sauterne, if desired. (Optionally you can use Madeira.) Cook pasta, al dente. Drain, pour into a large bowl, add fish broth. Place fish in a large bowl to pass. Serve the pasta in bowls and top with some of the fish. You know I am going to say, “ Pass the cheese”, too.
Note: This is one of those meals that is so tied to tradition that it wouldn’t be a holiday without it. For as long as I can remember, my Dad prepared this for our Christmas Eve dinner. He started it early in the day and the aroma was intoxicating and made dinner difficult to wait for, as if waiting for Christmas wasn’t already hard enough for a child. Fortunately, my Dad passed the recipe down to Charlie and this has always been our much anticipated Christmas Eve dinner. I believe it is everyone’s favorite dinner for many reasons. While it is cooking, the aroma is intoxicating and the memories it brings back to me are a real Christmas present.
In Italy, Christmas is anticipated with much excitement but not just for the gifts. It’s all about family and food and traditions and church service. Christmas Eve marks the Feast of Seven Fishes or La Virgilia, a celebration in which the entire meal is meatless. With so many courses there is plenty of room for variety. Tradition holds that 7 corresponds to the seven sacraments or the last seven days of Advent. Some households favor 9 courses because 9 is a multiple of the Holy Trinity. And then there are some who go all out for 12 for the 12 Apostles.
But no matter how many courses or for what reasons, fish is still the central focus in many houses on Christmas Eve.
(A Christmas Eve Specialty)
2 Lbs Salted Cod
2 Cups Jarred Sweet Peppers – roughly chopped
1 Cup Kalamata Olives – pitted and roughly chopped
1 Cup Parsley – roughly chopped
2 Celery Ribs – thinly sliced
¾ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 Tbs Capers – rinsed and roughly chopped
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes – or to taste
4 Garlic Cloves – finely chopped
Juice of 2 Lemons
Kosher Salt – to taste
1 Medium Head Escarole – cored and leaves separated
Place cod in a 2-quart saucepan and cover with cold water by 2-inches and boil for about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the saucepan repeating this process twice. Drain and cut into 1-inch chunks and transfer to a bowl. Toss with the peppers, olives, parsley, oil, capers, black pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic, celery and lemon juice and stir. Taste for salt and stir again. Cover and chill for about 2 hours. Arrange escarole leaves on a serving plate and top with the cold cod salad. Alternately, buy frozen baccala fillets and eliminate all the soaking. Just rinse once and proceed
Note: Traditionally, the baccala or salt cod was prepared from dried salt cod. It would be sold in large dried flats that had to be submerged in water for days, changing the water several times a day. Then, the still smelly fish, had to be cleaned and the bones removed. Before the task was turned over to my Dad, this was the job of my Little Nonna, who soaked the fish in the cellar laundry tub. She would go down faithfully to change the water, but the odor still permeated throughout the house.
CHRISTMAS EVE CAKE
(Torta Vigilia di Natale)
1 CUP WATER
½ CUP BUTTER- salted
1 CUP SEEDLESS RAISINS or CURRANTS
1 EGG – lightly beaten
¼ CUP WALNUTS – chopped
1 TSP VANILLA or RUM FLAVORING
¼ CUP PECANS – chopped
1 TSP BAKING POWDER
1 CUP SUGAR
½ CUP SIFTED FLOUR
Simmer all together, the raisins or currants and the nuts in the water for about 5 minutes and then let cool
(I like to add a tiny pinch of salt to the water and a pinch of sugar). Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the egg and beat in until just combined. Add the flavorings and stir in. Sift baking powder and flour together and add to the creamed mixture. Beat until well blended. Add the cooled fruits and a bit of the liquid and stir well. Pour into a greased 8-inc pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cool, remove from the pan and cut into squares.