Celebrity Chef/Gourmand World Award Winning Author Maria Liberati shares some tips from her award winning book series. For more stores, recipes and tips from the book series join 100,000 worldwide subscribers at The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati tm BLOG at www.marialiberati.com.
For Italian families, the Christmas Eve meal is all about the fish. While other Christian families throughout the world celebrate this momentous meal with various meats, it is a tradition for Italian cooks to serve seven different types of fish. In Italian, the meal is known as La Vigilia, or Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it is one of Italy’s most famous traditions.
By all accounts, the Feast of the Seven Fishes began as a southern Italian custom. The tradition was hugely popular in Italy’s most southern points, including the island of Sicily. At one time, Rome, the Eternal City, seemed to the farthest point north where La Vigilia was celebrated, although today, although Italians throughout the world celebrate it. No one knows for sure the significance for offering seven fishes, although there are numerous explanations for it. Some believe that seven fishes are served because it took God seven days to create the world, while others mention the Seven Hills of Rome. There is also the possibility that the seven fishes symbolize the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, along with the seven sins. Today, the number of fishes served varies. Although seven remains the historical number.
For La Vigilia, there are no requirements as to which types of fish need to be served. In Italy however, eel is regarded as a delicacy and so, it is perhaps the only non fish on the table. Other popular fishes that are eaten on this special holiday are prepared versions of calamari, baccala (codfish), kale patties, oysters, scallops, whiting, clams, and shrimp. At the Feast of the Fishes, the meal usually begins with antipasto, the Italian equivalent of hors d´oeuvres. This can include a variety of cold foods such as cheeses and raw or marinated vegetables. Kyle Phillips, Your Guide to Italian Food lists what the Christmas Eve meal should include in a typical Napoletana celebration: drowned broccoli rabe, a choice of vermicelli with either garlic and olive oil, anchovies, or clams, roasted or fried eel, followed by other fish dishes of your choosing, and a caponata di pesce (fish salad) to wrap up the dinner portion of the meal. The meal ends with any number of delectable desserts. One that is almost always present is the requisite panettone, the famous sweet cake-like Christmas bread that is eaten during the Christmas holidays.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition that has existed since ancient times, and one which will surly continue. Life changes, but for Italian people throughout the world, this is one tradition whose religious and cultural significance outweighs everything else.
Published in: Cooking