A Twist On The Italian Feast Of The Seven Fishes Christmas Eve Dinner

by Gennefer Gross


Unlike other cultures, Italians aren’t big on fasting. Piles of perfectly al dente pasta, crusty bread dipped in olive oil, and tables lined with carbs covered in rich sauces, cheeses, and meats are a way of life. So the Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve Dinner is their version of ‘fasting.’ While there are traditional menu items for this edible extravaganza, the only real requirement is that the dishes are meat-free and served before Midnight Mass, and of course, accompanied by lots and lots of wine! So, here are some ideas for a re-imagined feast that gives this timeless tradition a twist that everyone will enjoy. 

Course 1: Appetizer

Since there are six more dishes to follow, the first course should be something light and snacky. Many Italian-American households serve baccalà (salted cod) in a classic preparation, cut into chunks, dredged in flour, fried and braised in a spicy tomato sauce. But to keep it a touch lighter and more crowd friendly, we recommend a tuna crudo (basically Italy’s version of sashimi), dressed simply with a touch of lemon and olive oil. It’s fresh enough to cleanse the palate and flavorful enough to set the tone for what’s to come. Plus, with the rise in popularity of poke, this dish is sure to please all your guests. Pair it with a buttery white wine like a Chardonnay, and off we go!

Course 2: Salad

Typically, a crisp, invigorating salad would be served to pave the way for heavier dishes to follow, but we’re perfectly happy to stray from the standard (usually a squid salad), and instead opt for freeing the fish from its bed of greens. Grilled octopus with a tangy ancho chile sauce gives the taste buds that revitalizing kick, while the sherry-braised tentacles are tender enough to keep your guests from filling up. Pair this course with something bright and bubbly like a Lambrusco to keep the palate piqued.

Course 3: Something Hearty

Now that the first two courses have subtly sparked our hunger, it’s time for something a little heavier. Here’s where you would normally see an array of deep-fried fishes or stuffed whole lobster. But to build on the slow momentum of this modernized feast, mini lobster pot pies are the perfect step up to the pasta premiering next. Swirls of silky cream, swaddling steamed chunks of lobster with sweet corn and scalloped potatoes in a flaky pastry crust give the illusion of decadence without over-indulging, thanks to their small ceramic casserole encasing. Pop open a vibrant bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé or Pinot Grigio and let fruity notes carry you to the fourth course.

Course 4: Pasta

No bountiful Italian banquet is complete without pasta, and since we’re nearing the end of this glorious gorge fest, we can pack on some richer ingredients for the full carb experience. Linguine with clams or spaghetti alla puttanesca (tomato sauce with anchovies) are go-to options, but we’re taking things to the next level with Brown Butter Scallops with Parmesan Risotto. Okay, risotto is technically rice but still a carb, and this recipe is so buttery and decadent, you won’t even miss the flour-based variety. But if you long for sheets of creamy, sauce-soaked carbs, this seafood lasagna with shrimp and crab meat, smothered in mozzarella, should do the trick. We don’t subscribe to the no cheese and seafood rule, and you shouldn’t either. Both pair beautifully Sauvignon Blanc. If you want to bring out more of the sweetness of the shell fish, grab a bottle of dry rosé, and let the taste of the ocean take you away.

Course 5: The Main Event

Even with our rich seafood pastas, the meal’s been pretty subdued so far (as in no one’s unbuttoning their pants just yet). That’s the beauty of an all-seafood menu—even the ‘heaviest’ dishes are light, allowing us to showcase this whole-roasted halibut with lemons, olive, and rosemary for the fifth course. This delicate, briny dish is a savory segue to the upcoming dessert. the slightly charred filet imparts a meaty quality, as we prepare for one final palate cleanser. Serve with a side of fingerling potatoes or sautéed spinach and a chilled glass of smoky Fumé Blanc, as we approach the finish line.

Course 6: The Palate Cleanser

Anything with citrus or mint works well as a palate cleanser to reset your tastebuds, but rather than go the sorbet route, we decided on oysters with citrus vodka. Many menus might also call for a shot of limoncello at this point. But the citrus vodka mimics a refreshing beverage, while silky oysters sweep away any remnant flavors in your mouth, leaving you refreshed and ready for your luxurious final course.

Course 7: Dessert

This course would usually bring an array of Italian cookies, and of course, cannoli, but we’re not about to go with the usual at this point. To build on our citrus-y previous course, enjoy this Blood Orange Upside Down Cake, conceived by renowned chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal fame, and their newest restaurant, Jon & Vinny’s. This duo knows its way around a recipe, and the sweet and tangy blood oranges that are in peak season right now, atop a spongy polenta cake that’s lush but airy, are the perfect cap off to Christmas Eve. Pour a glass of tawny port, and call it a night.

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