Sunday, December 21, 2014

Feast of the Seven Fishes

This Year, Feast with Cod

This  week,  my dear friends and I will meticulously prepare the traditional Italian "Feast of the Seven Fishes" -- Christmas Eve dinner.  It is my favorite holiday meal, featuring shrimp, salted cod, calamari, and brimming bowls of pasta with seafood. Of course, there will be champagne and fine wine, and delectable treats -- Abbondanze!! 

Despite my fondness for this meal, the Seven Fishes Feast is not what I grew up eating. Having been raised in a Polish-American family, we ate what we called a white meal -- pierogi, potatoes, fish.  But, whether Italian, Polish or other heritage, the eating of fish on Christmas Eve has deep roots in the Catholic tradition, and was intended to be eaten before Midnight Mass.  The meal is supposed to be sacred, pure, and almost solemn.  Therefore it was meatless.

Christmas Eve remains one of my most vivid childhood holiday memories. In upstate New York,  it was always snowy outside, and the houses, ours included, were brightly lit with twinkling lights.  Inside it was warm, with multiple fireplaces burning as all sorts of Polish dishes were being prepared.

Without dishonoring my Polish roots, I must admit that now as an adult, I much prefer the Italian "Seven Fishes" version of Christmas Eve --it's not just dinner, it's an unabashed festive banquet.   Having spent my adult life living, cooking and dining with Italians, I have grown to love and appreciate the significance of holiday foods, and nothing compares to the Seven Fishes feast.

By the way, the meal does not need to be 7 fishes; but, for good luck, it does need to be an odd number. I have been told that the number 7 signifies the sacraments.   Which ever way you look at it,  good luck getting through all of them!

While I am not recommending that everyone go to extravagant lengths preparing multiple fish courses during the holiday,  I would like to share one simple, crowd pleasing fish dish -- cod with kale and sweet potatoes.  Cod is a traditional Christmas fish, and while this version may be a bit less traditional, it is wonderfully delicious, and can be enjoyed anytime during the year.  Best of all, the entire meal can be prepared in one large saucepan!

Here is what you will need:

Filet of Cod, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
4 sweet potatoes
1 bunch of fresh kale
1 bunch of leaks
2 red peppers
4 cloves of garlic
2 large shallots
1 lemon
1/4 cup asian fish sauce
hot pepper flakes

Remove woody center of the kale and then cut it into strips. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes.  Dice the onion, leek, shallots, and garlic. Cube the red pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and add onion, leek, shallots, garlic and red pepper. Sauté until soft and tender, about 5 minutes.

Add sweet potato and kale and sauté for 3 minutes.

Add 1 cup of water and cook for 12 minutes on medium heat until sweet potato is softened.

Add fish sauce, salt and pepper

Lay the cod fillets over the vegetables and cover with lid.  Let it simmer for about 6 minutes on medium heat.  Serve cod and vegetables on a plate and drizzle with olive oil and lemon.

If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, be sure to refrigerate.  This dish is even better the next day!

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