Every year on Christmas Eve, Nino and I prepare a menu of seafood dishes to celebrate the coming of Christ.
“It’s what Italians do when they say they’re fasting.” More precisely, the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. “No one’s quite sure of the significance of the number,” says Batali. “Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus.”
As a young girl I heard many stories about the way my grandfather could cook. Truth is, my Nana didn’t enjoy cooking as much as he did. I mean, she cooked, but not because she loved it. But my grandfather would make baccalao, and have live eels swimming in the bathtub on Christmas Eve.
Oh, how I wish I could have sat at his table all those years ago. I’ve seen photos and even videos of the celebrations that my dad was able to record. They are priceless. Watching these home videos that my dad shot all those years ago is like a small taste of what it was like to grow up in the 50’s.
My grandmother’s family all lived within a stone’s throw from each other in New York City. I can imagine all the holidays where they crammed themselves into who ever’s apartment the festivities would be taking place. As my father’s generation grew up, they all began to move out of the city and into the suburbs only to get together on the most important days, holidays, birthdays, and weddings.
When Nino and I got married, I told him about the traditions that I grew up with and he was intrigued. It was a little different from what he knew as a child but he could see and understand the beauty of this tradition and was totally on board for us to host this kind of gathering for our families when the time came every year.
Each year, Nino and I plan the menu together. I truly love the entertaining, the cooking, and even setting the table for this gathering. I always try to choose dishes that will be easy to prepare in courses and can be timed so that we aren’t stressed out with what to prepare first. Seven is the magic number for our different kinds of fish that we serve, but to tell you the truth, we usually serve one or two more than that.
Here are some things that make it easy on preparing this seven to ten courses:
- Preparing salads ahead
- Preparing a variety of baked, pan fried, and stewed dishes
- Ready made sauces and marinades
- Dishes that can be ordered or delivered ahead
- Visit your local fish market for the freshest seafood
Here are the dishes we made this year!
Fried Calamari has to be made on the spot and right when you are ready to serve. The secret here is knowing how long to let your battered and breaded squid rings fry. Ok. Not a healthy dish because it’s fried, but it’s my favorite way to eat squid. I need the crispy fried breading because I like the crunch! This dish was made so super easy with the jarred Contadina Sauce I received as a Christmas gift. I chose to use the Arrabiata ready made sauce because it has just a little bit of bite. All I had to do is heat it up in a saucepan, add a few more chili flakes, and serve it with my piping hot fried calamari.
Christmas came early for me and my kitchen! I’m already thinking about my #feastofthesevenfishes #ChristmasEve dinner. I wonder what recipe I can come up with using the #FlavorsofContadina? #contadinaph #contadinaxnigella #italiancooking #italianfood #italian #italiansdoitbetter #homecooking #instacook #instagood #instacool #instafood
Using some of the products from the Premium Contadina line makes my life so much easier when preparing all my favorite Italian American Dishes for my family. I want my life to be easy in the kitchen every day of the week, but most especially, when I’m preparing so many courses for us to enjoy!
Here is the one dish that Nino and I decided to order this year. Dolores’ Caviar Pie was easy to set out on the coffee table while we were just hanging around with our wine. The kids were already noshing on the Calamari so the adults were able to dig into this appetizer without little hands interfering.
Nino always loves contributing to our menu in a way which pushes the limits of an Italian Menu. Of course I didn’t mind when he suggested he make Kilawin to add to our list of appetizers. He was inspired to create a dish of Kilawin that was big on flavor and big on BIG Tanigue chunks of fresh fish when we visited Boracay recently. We tried out our friend’s restaurant, Los Indios Bravos, and one of our appetizers was Kilwain. It was so delicious we gobbled it up, and I remember asking Nino if he could recreated that dish at home. Thankfully, he obliged just in time for Jesus’ Birthday Celebration.
Ok. In the 18 years we have been married, we have played around with a lot of flavors in the kitchen. Nino’s palette of flavors is mostly Asian in flavor, although he likes to dabble in French cooking as well. For this dish, he was able to find sashimi grade salmon at that market that he just torched the same way Japanese chefs Aburi sushi and sashimi to enrich the flavors of the fish.
Sometimes, I opt for frozen seafood. It does make my life easier in many ways. Especially if I have something in the freezer and I am inspired to cook a mid week seafood meal. Going to Roxas Blvd for fresh fish isn’t always an option but it’s a must when we are preparing for Christmas Eve and the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Local mussels tend to be a bit smaller, and for this dish, I wanted plump, rich, juicy mussels from New Zealand. Thanks to S & R, these bad boys are always in stock. All I did was cook some minced garlic in butter and drizzle over each mussel. Then I mixed mayo and grated Parmigiano Reggiano and topped each mussel with cubed cheese as well. Garnishing this dish with fresh parsley finishes the process.
This is one of Nino’s favorite ways to eat squid. His buddy Chi, once served this when he was at his house sometime last year, and since then, Nino has prepared it himself, either grilling on our outdoor grill, or even our cast iron grill pan in the kitchen if the weather wasn’t cooperative. Super simple, with a clean taste, and when done right, the squid is soft and not overly chewy.
Oh, how I love this dish. I’ve been making this for years. I remember trying to make this dish for the very first time with one of my girlfriends while we were still in college. There’s no set recipe save for the fact that I like to use shelled crab to make my life easy. Seriously. When preparing this many courses, you need to make it easy on yourself. I prepped these mushrooms earlier in the day and just kept in the fridge until I was ready to bake and serve.
The day before Christmas Eve my #cookfest buddies and I got together for a minute. We were all discussing our menus and how our preparations were coming along, when my friend Sabrina said she likes to make her white fish with a ratatouille sauce. I asked Gia to research some recipes and she decided she wanted to adapt the Disney recipe from the movie Ratatouille and using my new Christmas gift that Nino chose for me we were able to make perfectly sliced coins of zucchini and eggplant for this baked dish. We made it even easier by using the jarred Napoletana Sauce from Contadina. EASY PEASY.
As a child, Nino remembers his lola serving a variation of this dish during their Noche Buena Feasts. I’m so happy he was able to recreate another version of this dish by leveling up our egg salad with a little bit of truffle oil. Can you say YUM?
One of the things that I brought home from my last trip to the states was some saffron from Trader Joe’s. I’ve been waiting to use it in a special dish for my family and friends, so Christmas Eve fits the bill. I have always believed that the flavors for Risotto shouldn’t be messed with. My standard risotto recipe involves asparagus at most. But for Christmas Eve, mixing in those flavorful saffron strands levels up the tenth course for this Seven Fish Feast. Searing the giant scallops separately with browned butter adds another level of flavor to this simple yet rich and filling dish which capped off our dinner.
BUT Christmas Eve is not Christmas Eve without all the Christmas Cookies that Gia and I love to bake. With so many dishes to prepare, Gia and I focused on a few of our favorite cookies to serve with her Homemade Crockpot Hot Cocoa. You can find this recipe for her hot cocoa on my Cookie Swap Post from earlier this month.
Now, the folks over at Contadina want to make your life easier too.
They would like to choose a random reader to receive a gift basket with all the ingredients highlighted in my IG post above so that you can prepare your own holiday dishes for your friends and family as well.
All you have to do is share this:
- Share this blog post on FB
- Tag the person or people you would like to cook one of these holiday dishes for
- Use the hashtag #FlavorsofContadina
- Leave a blog post comment with your name and email address so I can contact the winner
- Winner will be chosen at random
- Winner must live in the Philippines