Italian Recipes

Competition of the seven fish

December 8, 2021

The holidays are just around the corner and I’m looking forward to planning our vacation menu. I love celebrating our Italian heritage over the holidays and the many traditions that go with it. Some of the most delicious traditions come from Italian households during the holidays. Although Italians always seem interested in food, especially during the numerous holidays of the year, food always seems to be a priority at Christmas. Aside from the many religious traditions, this is the time when feasts are prepared every year and families come together to enjoy this special season. One of the most famous traditions followed every Christmas is La Vigilia, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve. This year we are close to the family in our new home so I am very excited to be hosting my own Seven Fishes Festival this Christmas Eve. I’ll be working on a couple of new seafood recipes to use in my menu over the next few weeks and I’ll be sharing them with you soon!

The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve goes back to the medieval Catholic tradition of abstinence, in this case not eating meat or dairy products on Fridays and certain public holidays. Since neither meat nor butter could be used, attentive Catholics ate fish, which was often fried in olive oil. The type of seafood cooked for this feast is similar for most families as there are always seven combinations of anchovies, sardines, dried cod, smelt, eel, octopus, squid, shrimp, clams, oysters, and clams. Spaghetti with sardines is a typical pasta that is served with this meal. At the same time, several other seafood selections are often combined in a seafood salad that is eaten as a first course or appetizer.

When researching the background to this tradition, I was surprised to find that not only seven seafood dishes are always prepared. Some believe that seven different types of seafood must be served, while others traditionally serve ten or thirteen fish dishes every Christmas Eve. The seven fish are believed to represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church while others celebrate the stations of the cross. Thirteen courts are said to represent the twelve apostles plus Jesus. Whatever your beliefs, this year, plan an incredible seafood feast, meet your friends and family, and enjoy the season. Here are some of my favorite seafood dishes. Pick a few to plan your own personal Italian Christmas menu. Add a few side vegetables and a delicious dessert and enjoy!

Festival of the seven fish


Breaded mussels

Seefood salad

Cured salmon

Scallops with tomatoes & breadcrumbs

Octopus with white beans

Fried sardines with parsley sauce

Crab poppers with horseradish sauce

Calamari with sun-dried tomatoes & olives

Baked scallops with tomato sauce


Lemon noodles with prawns

Seafood soup, Trieste style

Spaghetti with mussels & cherry tomatoes

Pasta with prawns & artichokes

Pasta with prawns & mussels

Almafi lemon risotto with prawns

Sicilian anchovy noodles on Christmas Eve

Spaghetti with prawns in a creamy tomato sauce


Grilled octopus

Whole fish baked in salt

Sicilian swordfish with tomato relish

Baccala stew

Italian seafood stew

Grouper Puttanesca

Grilled swordfish with oregano

Calabrian chilli prawns

Deborah Mele
Revised December 2021

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