Let the cooking begin! Christmas is less than a week away and for me that means its time for our Feast of the Seven Fishes, my most favorite meal to cook in all of the year. The lists are made, the fish is ordered and the menu is printed – woohoo! 🥳
Our Feast of the Seven Fishes 🐟 (Extra Fish Permitted)
The Italian tradition of serving fish on Christmas Eve was always a big deal for our family growing up. The eve before Christmas was usually spent at our Uncle Nelson’s apartment which was within walking distance of the church where we attended Midnight Mass. Uncle Nelson owned a liquor store, named Family Liquors (a name that would never fly in today’s world 😊), that was just below the apartment. Our first stop was always to see our uncle, still at work in his store, where we would race to the back to see all the tall brightly colored liquor bottles. We would then head up to the apartment where we were greeted by our aunt; the apartment filled with the aroma of baccala and fried smelts while in the background a film loop of a yule log burning and crackling in a fireplace played on the TV. Numerous courses of fish ensued. My Aunt Mary’s famous eggnog was poured and poured some more. Then around midnight, we would bundle up against the cold and head out for the short walk to the church for Mass where we inevitably nodded off long before communion was served.
Over the years, our tradition evolved into a proper Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes – a feast not actually celebrated in Italy but rather based on the long-held Italian tradition of eating seafood on Christmas eve, abstaining from meat until the big meal on Christmas Day. (There are multiple theories as to the reason for serving seven fish – possibly the seven Sacraments or the seven hills of Rome.)
We lovingly planned courses, counted fish, and jokingly printed menus in the exact format which you see below. Somewhere along the way, we developed a tradition of playing and dancing to Lou Monte’s Dominick the Donkey, recorded back in 1960. One year, as we settled into our seats at the table, our little Aunt Annie sat quietly reading the menu. She suddenly looked up and jokingly declared that we had exceeded the fish count by 2 – there were 9 fish, not 7, on the menu. 😁Well, this then required us to, in subsequent years, provide a disclaimer on the menu – extra fish were always permitted.
Our 2022 Feast Menu
This year is no exception….as of today, we have 9 fish on the menu: calamari, cod, shrimp, clams, lobster, halibut, mussels, crab and anchovies (but do anchovies really count? 😁). This year’s feast will be a simpler, smaller gathering with family to give us a chance to linger at the table, long after the last fish has been eaten (and perhaps get in a few more rounds of Dominick the Donkey. 💃🏻)
A few of the fish will be served as antipasti and then to keep things simpler this year, I have opted to do the main course as big ole’ pot of fish stew which will be a cross somewhere between a cioppino, bouillabaisse and a brodetto – think a big ole kettle of saffron and tomato infused broth teaming with fish and lobster, crab and shellfish and nice crusty grilled crostini served alongside.
One of our antipasti – fresh cod cakes
In years past, we have always (and I mean always) had a baccala (dried salt cod) recipe on the menu. This year, I opted to forgo the dried salt cod and use fresh cod, making for a simpler, faster preparation that will save my fridge from smelling like cod for months after. 😁 (confession – it has taken me a few weeks to get over the Italian guilt of not serving baccala 😳 – but I got this! 🍷)
A few notes about the recipe❤️
I paired the cod cakes with a briny Italian salsa verde, made from parsley, anchovies, olive oil, and garlic. This sauce is all about the quality of the olive oil so use the best quality that you have on hand to prepare.
This recipe is almost totally make-ahead, saving you time in the kitchen when guests have arrived. The cod cakes can be made and formed a day in advance and the salsa verde can be made 3 or 4 days in advance. 🥳 Be sure to bring the cod cakes (and the salsa verde) to room temperature before cooking.
This dish is also one of the recipes in in our Feast of the Seven Fishes free download which has some of our favorite recipes for the Feast. Simply sign up to follow us on the blog to receive! And if you are already a subscriber and would like to receive, just drop us a note at INFO@OURITALIANTABLE.COM and we will send on over to you ❤️.
From our tables to yours, wishing you the merriest of Christmases! 🎄 May your day be spent surrounded by those you love and cherish ❤️
xx Michele ❤️ (and Joey too!)Print
These delicious cod cakes use fresh cod instead of the more classic holiday baccala (salted cod). This makes for a much simpler and faster preparation for your Feast of the Seven Fishes!
For the salsa verde:
- Leaves from 1 medium bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon brined capers, drained
- 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets
- 2 cloves garlic
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 small lemon
- Best quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
For the cod cakes:
- 2 large potatoes
- 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 6 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
- 1-pound fresh cod, skinless
- ½ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 tablespoon brined capers, roughly chopped
- Zest of ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Olive oil
To serve: Fresh chopped parsley, Additional lemon wedges
- Make the salsa verde: On a large cutting board, place the parsley, capers, anchovies, and garlic. Give them a medium chop. Precision is not important here, but you want small chucks but not minced.
- Place the chopped ingredients in a small jar, add a pinch of crushed red pepper and juice the lemon into the jar.
- Add just enough extra virgin olive oil to just cover the ingredients. Close the jar and shake vigorously. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste (the anchovies and capers will have added a lot of salt already). If using within a few hours, set aside. Otherwise, refrigerate.
- Make the cod cakes: Peel and cut the potatoes in equally sized chunks. Put in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil and boil until potatoes are tender. Drain and place in a large bowl. Mash with a fork or potato masher. Set aside.
- In a shallow, wide pan with high sides, add about an inch of water and set over medium heat. Add the peppercorns and bay leaf. Squeeze 1 wedge of lemon into the water and add the squeezed lemon to the pan. Bring the pan to a simmer. Place the cod into the pan and simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Carefully remove the fish from the water. Place on a dish and set aside to cool.
- To the bowl with the potatoes, add in the parsley, capers, lemon zest, remaining 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Flake the cooked fish into the bowl and gently mix to incorporate. (You want to keep the fish flakes as whole as possible.)
- Form the mixture into 6 to 8 small patties. Place them on a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Warm a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan. Once the oil is shimmering, carefully add the cod cakes to the pan. Do not crowd – you may need to do this in batches. Sauté the cod cakes until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Carefully flip and sauté the other side.
- As they finish, remove them to a serving platter. (You can also keep the cod cakes warm in a low oven 250 degrees Fahrenheit until ready to serve.) Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. Serve with the remaining lemon wedges plus additional and the salsa verde sauce on the side.
- Make-ahead: The salsa verde can be made 3 or 4 days in advance. Refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving. Cod cakes can be made and formed a day in advance. Bring the cakes to room temperature before cooking.
- The briny Italian salsa verde is all about the quality of the olive oil so use the best quality that you have to prepare.