Every year my family, along with thousands of other Italian-American families, hosts the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Rather than eating the traditional turkey, ham and all the sides, we eat just seafood of all shapes and sizes. Thankfully no one in our family is allergic to seafood, otherwise they would be out of luck!
The origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes are very unclear, but we do know that the Feast is an Italian-American tradition, not an Italian tradition. Many Italians have never even heard of the seven fishes! However, many Italians do consume fish before Christmas Day rather than meat because Christmas Eve is considered a vigil. A vigil is a day of abstinence on which the Catholic Church prohibits the consumption of meat. Even though the Italians eat fish on Christmas Eve, the relevance of the number seven is unclear. Some theories state that the seven represents the seven sacraments, the seven days of the week or the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome. Every family prepares this meal slightly differently with the number of fishes varying from seven to even 13 dishes. That’s a lot of seafood!
The Feast of the Seven Fishes in our household has always meant a great deal to our family. All the adults spend the whole day preparing the dishes as stories are told and laughter is echoing throughout the house. Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and the Feast of the Seven Fishes makes it even more special.
Because I love this tradition so much, below I shared my Grandfather’s favorite recipe for scungilli. This unique dish has been served at every Christmas Eve dinner that I can remember, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as he does!
- 1 pound frozen scungilli thawed
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium red onion diced
- 1/2 bunch of fresh thyme leaves
- 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 Roma tomatoes chopped
Place scungilli in a pot and cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar, bring to a boil and lightly simmer for one hour until tender. Drain and cool. Slice into very thin rounds and set aside. In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, thyme leaves and bell pepper and cook about eight minutes until softened. Add stock, tomato and scungilli and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.