The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Tradition for Christmas Eve where seafood is eaten in any preparation you choose. Zuppa di Pesce is a popular option for many with it's zingy red sauce, plenty of fishes, and bed of linguine.Jump to Recipe
A history of the seven fishes
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian American tradition celebrated on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Christmas Day. It began in Little Italy in New York City in the late 1800s by immigrants from southern Italy paying homage to the Old World.
Though the tradition of abstaining from meat and eating only seafood on Christmas Eve was a longstanding religious tradition, it has since become a mainstay holiday in itself for Italian-American families. While Christmas Eve is a meatless meal, it’s also seen as a feast that continues straight through to Christmas Day.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is celebrated by eating seven different seafood dishes. There are so many different ways to go about creating your feast of the seven fishes. For example, you can have say two different fishes prepared seven different ways, seven fishes prepared seven different ways, or seven fishes prepared one way (as I’ll show you).
The different types of seafood you can use range from anything from white fish to shellfish, the options really are endless. Here are some seafood ideas for you to cook:
- Littleneck clams
- White fish
Zuppa di Pesce
One of my family's favorite ways to celebrate the feast of the seven fishes is by making one main course with a huge serving of Zuppa di Pesce. Zuppa di Pesce is an Italian meal that literally translates to fish soup. Though, it’s made in a red sauce and can be served over linguine, so not quite a soup. It can also be called Frutti di Mare (fruit of the sea), which is another big pasta dish served with various seafood.
The benefit of making a dish like this is that you concentrate on one big dish instead of seven separate dishes. This means you can make all of your seven fishes in one big sauce and serve it over a big bed of linguine.
Zuppa di Pesce has a traditional tomato sauce base that gets tweaked just a little. Extra red pepper flakes get added to help to give the sauce a little zip, lemon juice flavors the seafood – but also adds a bit of acidity to the sauce, and lastly, of course, the seafood itself imparts its flavor onto the sauce.
The various seafood set in this rich tomato sauce atop some al dente linguine is so indulgent – perfect for a feast! It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions!
Some ingredients to note that are important for this dish:
Lemon juice – seasons the seafood and starts to cook it down with the acidity
Seafood – you can pick and choose your own seafood to use, but a variety will work best. Options include: mussels, clams, lobster, crab, shrimp, white fish, calamari, scungilli, and scallops.
- Any shellfish should really be bought the day you’re going to be cooking them, and no more than 24 hours before cooking. Keep them on ice until right before cooking. Any seafood you can freeze, you can buy a little further in advance.
Tomato sauce – I go into detail in this post about types of tomatoes to use, but the gist is that – higher-quality tomatoes (like San Marzano) yield a higher quality sauce in flavor and texture.
Fresh parsley – this is one unassuming ingredient that will give your dish a vibrant and fresh flavor
Pasta - Linguine, Fettucine, spaghetti, or tagliatelle would all go great!
The overview on how to make this Zuppa di Pesce:
- Make your tomato sauce:
- Saute garlic in olive oil in a large pot
- Add in cans of tomato sauce
- Season the sauce with herbs and spices
- Let the sauce simmer for 2 hours
- Prep all your different types of fish (cleaning, scrubbing, seasoning)
- Cook the linguine
- Simultaneously cook the seafood while the pasta is cooking:
- Steam the mussels and clams, blanch the shrimp, etc
- Combine the seafood into the sauce
- Stir some sauce into the pasta
- Serve the seafood over a big bed of linguine and with red wine, like chianti!
Menu examples for Christmas eve
Here are some other Italian recipes to create your own feast of the seven fishes Christmas Eve celebration!
- Clams casino
- Baked clams
- Stuffed shrimp
- Shrimp cocktail
- Calamari Arrabiata
- Bucatini & Scallops
- Shrimp & Polenta
- Penne a la Vodka with Shrimp
- Fettucine with Lobster Cream Sauce
- Spaghetti alle Vongole
- Mussels Marinara
Traditional Italian Christmas Desserts to serve alongside:
- Italian cookies & pastries like pignoli cookies, lobster tails, rainbow cookies, struffoli, & ricotta cookies
- Sicilian Love Cake
Enjoy your Feast of Seven Fishes & Buon Natale! (Merry Christmas!)
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Zuppa di Pesce
- 4 garlic cloves (sliced not minced)
- Olive oil
- 3 cans tomato sauce 1 can plum San Marzano, 2 cans crushed tomatoes
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ tbsp dried parsley
- ½ tbsp dried basil
- ½ tbsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ½ cup water
- Small handful fresh parsley
- ½ pound linguine or fettucine, spaghetti, tagliatelle
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 lb shrimp peeled & devained
- 1 dozen littleneck clams
- 1 bunch mussels usually sold with about 20-30 mussels
- Other seafood you can add: calamari scallops, lobster, crab, whitefish
Heat a very large stock pot on medium heat and add in the sliced garlic cloves and a drizzle of olive oil.
Once the garlic is fragrant and begins to turn color, add in your tomato sauce cans.
Next add in the red pepper flakes. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for an hour and a half.
Add in the dried parsley, dried basil, garlic powder, black pepper, and water. Give the sauce another drizzle of olive oil on top and stir it all together. Let it simmer for another 30 minutes. If the sauce begins to boil while on low, turn the heat off.
While the sauce is cooking for the last half hour, clean all your seafood and have it ready to be cooked. Separate each type of fish into separate bowls. Season the shrimp and any scallops & calamari with salt and pepper. You can add the scallops and calamari to the sauce for the last half hour.
Before you cook the rest of the seafood, get the water boiling for your pasta so that everything is ready once the seafood is. The seafood is the easiest to overcook, so you don’t want to be waiting for the pasta to finish!
Get out another big pot or deep pan out as well as a small saucepan. Set up a medium sized bowl with ice cold water.
Fill the small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Once its boiling, add in the shrimp and let them cook for 3-5 minutes. Then, scoop them out and place them in the ice water. This method is blanching the shrimp and will stop the cooking immediately. You may cook the shrimp in the sauce too, but they’re easier to overcook that way.
Steam the mussels and clams in the large pot with ½ cup of water and the handful of fresh parsley until they open, about 5-10 minutes.
Add the opened mussels, clams, and drained shrimp to the sauce. Stir everything together in the sauce. Once the pasta is finished, drain and stir in some tomato sauce. You can serve everything in one large bowl, or serve individually!
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