Christmas Eve and the Feast of the 7 Fishes
It has been a while since I had the luxury of having Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off.
When you work in Theatre, people love to see shows with their family over the Christmas Holiday, so I might occasionally get one or the other day off, but not both.
When I had my company, “A Warm Wish,” we were swamped right up to the holiday. Quite often, Michael and I would spend Christmas Eve making last-minute deliveries for clients all over Vegas. Honestly, the deliveries were joyful. We would never ask our delivery drivers to work that day. They needed to spend time with their families. Exhausted though we were, the joy of delivering those gifts on Christmas Eve was worth it. We were bringing joy to the recipients and such relief to the senders. It felt a bit like playing Santa.
Of course, we were ready to drop when we got home. The thought of cooking a big meal was not something I could tackle.
As I dive into wine full-time this year, I have the luxury of having these days free to do a bit of cooking. Michael was off for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so inspired by my friend Cam of Culinary Cam, I made a plan, created a menu for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and set out to develop a Feast of the Seven Fishes.
The History of the Feast of the Seven Fishes
So a bit of history here. Going into this, I had heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes tradition, but I did not know the details. You needed seven fish dishes, this was an Italian Tradition, and it happens on Christmas Eve. That was my knowledge.
We think of this as an Italian Tradition, but it is probably more popular with Italian Americans than Italians. Italy has such diversity in food traditions (and wine) due to the Apennine Mountains, which divide the country. Many regions were isolated for centuries, and each developed its own culinary traditions.
The popularity of the Feast of the Seven Fishes happened in the early 1900s with Italian-American immigrant families. The idea of “fish” stems from the Roman Catholic Tradition of abstaining from meat on holy days. I remember growing up. We had fish every Friday during lent.
Most of the Italian Penisula is no more than 150 miles wide. So much of the country is close to the sea. Italian Americans took this tradition of abstaining from meat and combined it with seafood dishes from their homeland.
Okay, so that’s the fish part. But why 7?
In Catholicism, the number seven is sacred. The number comes up multiple times in scripture and the rituals of the church. Symbolically, seven stands for perfection, completeness, or wholeness in the church.
This trend of seven goes beyond the Catholic Church.
The Pythagoreans gave the number seven spiritual qualities. Four stood for the physical, the four corners of the earth, while three symbolized the spiritual, the holy trinity.
There are Seven Natural Wonders of the World, seven days a week, and Lucky 7 (if you are in Vegas, you are familiar with that one!).
So it makes sense that there would be seven fishes for this holy day without meat.
Making a menu
My heritage is not Italian, although much of my mother’s family married into Italian families. However, I thought Michael and I deserved a little Italian getaway, a moment to relive a bit of our trip from earlier this year. So I plotted my menu.
First, let’s get rid of the elephant in the room. Read the menu. Yep, you are right. There are only six fish listed. I had in my head a crab salad, which I did indeed make. I just neglected to get it on the menu. (I also dropped the non-seafood salad because we didn’t need it.)
Making the physical menu gave me a list to go by and something pretty to commemorate the day. Michael and I were spending the day together, just the two of us. It’s easy to curl up and forget to make the day special. The menu gave the day that little something special.
Breakfast and Apertivo
The day began with cappuccinos for breakfast. Michael bought us a cappuccino maker for Christmas. It arrived right after black Friday, and we put it to use right away. This took us back to Italy, where we began every day sipping a cappuccino!
Breakfast was late, and so was lunch, which ended up being Apertivo.
We mixed up two Aperol Spritz,’ and I put together a cheese and charcuterie board to graze on.
Then came the Feast! Since it was just for the two of us, I took some shortcuts to make it manageable for me in the kitchen.
Frozen breaded calamari went in the oven. I made up a quick crab salad to plate on butter lettuce leaves. I wanted to try a cream cheese board and made a crème cheese spread, adding crème fraîche (to loosen it up a bit for spreading), fresh dill and basil, onion and garlic powder, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. I schmeared the mixture on a board, and we added smoked salmon. I also made some crostini.
I heated some mussels in white wine sauce and made some ginger-seared bay scallops (Where are we now, is that 5? See what I mean? It’s hard to keep track.)
I sautéed rockfish in butter, olive oil, and capers and made a white wine lemon butter sauce to go over them.
I finished with a big cheat! Two frozen dinners of Grilled swordfish with beans and mashed potatoes.
What wine to pair?
I went through the wines downstairs and came upon an Albariño from Carhartt. Yes, I know, this is not an Italian wine, but it goes beautifully with seafood!
Carhartt Venture 2020 ‘Cáscara de Albariño’
So Carhartt doesn’t grow Albariño, but they got this fruit from the Santa Ynez vineyard in Happy Canyon.
Chase Carhartt wanted to do something different with this Albariño.
They brought in about 1 ton of fruit and divided it into thirds. One-third were treated with carbonic maceration. In this method, whole clusters of grapes are put in a sealed tank. The carbon dioxide builds, and the grapes ferment within their skins. Of course, the grapes on top weigh down the grapes on the bottom, and those grapes squish open and do a traditional fermentation. This method typically gives you light tannin, and fresh fruity wines meant to be enjoyed young.
One-third was skin fermented, sitting on the grape skins for about a week. This is treating a white grape like a red grape. Typically white grapes don’t sit on their skins, unlike red grapes. White grapes that ferment on their have increased flavor and phenolics. These wines also have the ability to age.
The final third was direct press (so no contact with the skins). This went directly into barrel to ferment for six months. Barrel Fermenting white wine tends to soften a white wine, making it rounder in your mouth.
After the six months, the three batches were blended and then bottled. This wine is unfined and unfiltered.
The wine pours golden, and since it is unfined and unfiltered, it is cloudy. This Albariño is a natural wine, and you find a bit of that funkiness on the nose. While it is fresh, it is richer than a typical Albariño. You find a bit of tannin, just a bit, which gives texture to the wine.
So Chase took these grapes in three different directions and then blended them. Here you get complexity, not from different grapes, but from the different techniques. This is a thoughtful wine, one to contemplate! It went well with all the seafood and added to the experience with its richness!
I’m gonna say I’m sorry. I looked on the Carhartt website, and this wine is not listed, so they must be out. Here’s the thing. Chase loves to explore new wines, and the Venture label allows him to do that, so watch for other unique wines that he is producing. https://www.carharttfamilywines.com/shop/venture/
Finishing touch to the day
After we digested a good bit, I made us hot cocoa with frothed milk, a bit of bourbon crème, whipped cream, and nutmeg. We enjoyed some wonderful Italian cookies I picked up from Siena Italian Authentic Trattoria and Deli. I found them online, and I know that I will be returning! They have a restaurant, a deli with many imported Italian foods, and an array of Italian desserts.
I also pulled out some of the Swiss Chocolates we picked up in St. Moritz.
The spread was beautiful, but the two of us put barely a dent into this feast. The upside is terrific left-overs!
Perhaps you enjoyed a Feast of the Seven Fishes!? If you did, we’d love it if you would tell us about your feast in the comments!
If you did not, perhaps you are inspired to give it a try next year!
I hope you had a wonderful holiday and could spend it with those you love, as I did.
References and Resources
12 Days of Wine 2022
If you missed our 12 Days of Wine 2022 Celebration, you can find it here!
We spent the 12 Days leading up to Christmas, tasting and pairing wines from around the globe! You will find recommendations for some delicious wines from wineries doing good for people and planet from all over the world. Plus there are suggestions for pairings and Michael created a movie for each day!
Check out our book series, “Tempting Spoonfuls” available through Amazon!
Inspired by the flavors and aromas in wines, this book creates “tempting spoonfuls” of flavors to pair with wines.
Robin has always had a love for spoons, with a drawer full of them in all different shapes and sizes. There is comfort in eating something from a spoon and something very sensual also.
Creating a spoon filled with flavors and aromas that will be eaten in a single bite, allowing the flavors to meld and pop in your mouth, is a joyful endeavor, and you are encouraged to make these your own.
The spoons range from savory to sweet, with something for everyone, and while they are paired with wines, they are delicious on their own.
These recipes are wonderful for appetizers and hors d’oeuvres or simple to create something delicious to spoil yourself, much like a pint of ice cream.
Each of these spoons is paired with a specific wine, and you get a bit of background on the wine, its flavors, aromas, and a bit of its story. She also includes other suggestions for wines to pair with the spoon.
The book is a feast for your eyes, with photos of each layered spoonful.
There are also photos of the wines with the elements of their flavor profile surrounding them. Those elements often inspire the pairing.
The goal is to make your mouth water and encourage you to create your own “Tempting Spoonfuls.”
“Tempting Spoonfuls – Pairing single bites with glorious wines” – Our first book paired wines from boutique wineries on the west coast, in California, Oregon, and Washington, with delicious spoonfuls.
This book is 60 pages, 18 recipes, lots of beautiful photos, and insights into some fantastic small wineries!
“Tempting Spoonfuls – small bites paired with wines from around the Globe” – This book takes us around the globe to explore 12 wine regions, a wine from the region, and then gives you a recipe for a pairing!
A slightly larger book at 104 pages, this time you learn about pairing with a type of wine from a region. Rather than a specific bottle, you can look for a style of wine from a region and feel confident that it will go well with the recipe pairing we provide. We give you 12 recipes, each to pair with a wine.
Either of these books gives you wonderful recipes to create appetizer spoons to pair with wines for a party!
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.