If you’re part of an Italian family, know an Italian family or have a favorite Italian restaurant, you’re probably gearing up for Christmas Eve and the famous Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes 🐟🍤! Rooted in the Italian (as in Italy, not my hometown) tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve, this Americanized tradition has grown into a abbondanza-ized American meal. The “seven” part is highly variable. It can mean seven separate dishes of seafood, seven types of seafood or maybe one big pot of seven types of seafood. More than seven is always appreciated
What’s really special about this meal is the gathering of family and friends around a big table sharing a wonderful meal. We used to eat this meal on the early side and all go off to midnight mass. As time went on, we’d usually all be in bed by midnight. We also would visit my Uncle Nelson and Aunt Anne before midnight mass. They lived right down the street from church in an apartment above the Family Liquor Store, which they owned (a name that would never pass muster today!). Uncle Nelson would make fried smelts and serve very-spiked homemade eggnog as we watched the yule log burning on TV (I think it was New York City television station WPIX).
To prepare for this meal, we’d think of old favorite recipes and hunt for new ones to try. Personally, I would always come back to stuffed clams. They are simple to make and you can be opportunistic if you spot big beautiful clams at the fish market.
This dish is nice because you can prepare it the day before and broil the clams right before you serve them. If you can find prized dried Sicilian oregano (usually sold still on the stem in a bag), grab it as it will add a lot of flavor to the dish. Serve these clams on a bed of salt so they don’t wobble, and garnish with wedges of lemon.
Buon Natale 🎄🎁!Print
- 12 large clams such as Littleneck or Cherrystone – ask for clams that are large and of similar sizes
- White wine (see below)
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2–4 tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tsp dried oregano (Sicilian oregano if you can find it)
- 1–2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Prepare a large bowl of cold water with lots of ice cubes. Add the clams and leave for 1 hour to allow them to expel their sand.
- In a wide shallow pan with a lid, add about ¼-inch of white wine. Lift the clams from the cold water, leaving the sand behind, and place in the pan with the wine. Empty and rinse the bowl that held the clams for the next step.
- Cover the pan and heat over medium-high heat. The clams will open in about 3-5 minutes. Check occasionally and remove clams that have opened to cleaned bowl. If the wine starts to dry out, add more wine or some water. If clams are partially open, you can open the rest of the way with a butter knife. Discard any clams that refuse to open.
- When the clams are cool enough to handle, tip the clams so any juice (a.k.a. liquor) drops into the bowl. Remove the top shell and free the clam from the bottom shell with a butter knife. Place each clam in its half shell on a baking sheet.
- Set up a paper coffee filter over a glass or a pour over coffee cone. Pour in the liquid left in the pan and in the bowl. Let it drip through. If it’s not dripping, gently squeeze the paper filter to push the liquid through. If you have very little liquid, add some white wine to the mixture.
- Prepare the filling in a small bowl by combining the breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, garlic and red pepper. Add the collected clam juice and mix to combine. The mixture should clump together when pressed. Add a little olive oil if needed. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Holding each clam in its half shell over the bowl with the filling, gently pack the filling in each shell covering the clam from edge to edge in the shell. Place each stuffed clam back on the baking sheet. At this point, you can cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Place a rack in the middle of the oven and turn on the broiler. Drizzle olive oil on the clams and broil for 5-10 minutes until the stuffed clams are crispy brown. Keep a close eye on the clams. Depending on the distance between broiler and pan, the clams can quickly go from pale to burnt.
- Let the clams cool and serve with lemon wedges.