Our Feast of the Seven Fishes tradition is really about family.
My mother and my aunts took every meal seriously, but this traditional feast for the entire extended family was on a-whole-nother level. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it took them a week to prepare for this meal. For that whole week leading up to Christmas Eve, they would buy and clean the seven fishes—enough to feed the whole extended family. Oh, the food was so good… and the long nights enjoying each other’s company were so much fun!
I miss those huge Christmases with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and Grandma Vivardo. Grandmas have a magical way of holding everyone together. Eventually, Grandma Vivardo passed away, and the family just kept getting bigger… and we all split it off into our own smaller groups. That made me responsible for the Christmas Eve feast.
No, don't get me wrong, I love cooking. But preparing a huge feast with seven separate fish dishes is a pretty ambitious task. Since it's just me, Billy, and the kids, I decided to honor the tradition and make it my own by creating a Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie recipe. It checks off all the boxes without overwhelming me in the kitchen! It's not exactly what my grandma made, but whenever I make this pie, I am flooded with all those happy memories. I hope this recipe helps you make some beautiful memories with your family too.
Italian-American History: The Origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes
Known as La Vigilia in Italy, the Feast of the Seven Fishes refers to an incredible meal served on Christmas Eve. This particular feast is specific to southern Italy. The traditional table is decked out with rich seafood dishes like spaghetti with clams, baccala (salt cod), fried shrimp, lobster salad, shrimp scampi, fried eel, shrimp, and smelt… and sides like fresh green salad, pickles, and olives.
Most of the Italians who immigrated to the United States came from southern Italy, and this is one of the traditions that they brought with them. Where the number seven came from in the “festa dei sette pesci,” however, is a controversial matter. Some believe it refers to the seven days in the last week of advent, some that it references the seven sacraments, and others still that it's a shout out to the seven deadly sins. I personally have no idea, I am just grateful for the food!
How to Decorate with Puff Pastry: Making Perfect Pastry Scales for Your Feast of Seven Fishes Pie
If you look at my photos of this recipe, you’ll see that I decorate my pie with scales… just to make the fish theme a little bit more festive! Making “fish scales” out of your extra puff pastry is easy! Just use a 1-inch round cookie cutter and make lots of small puff pastry rounds. Then place them in a layering effect over the top layer of puff pastry. Remember to brush the top with the egg wash when you’re all done so it gets nice and brown during baking.
What to Serve with Your Feast of Seven Fishes Pie
What I love most about this meal is that it stands alone so well—it’s filling and satisfying. You can serve sides if you like, but it really is incredible all on its own. If you do opt for some side dishes, maybe try out a nice charcuterie board, some fresh antipasto, or a nice, healthy side like my Black-eyed Pea Salad recipe.
My favorite garnishes for this dish are crème fraiche and caviar… and yes, you can make your own. Click through to the recipe below to learn how to make your own crème fraîche from scratch.
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
Author: Mary DiSomma
Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie
Choose mild fish—like cod, whitefish, or sole filets—for this recipe. For seafood, I like to use shrimp and scallops. Since it’s a Christmas Eve staple, I add lobster, too. Serve it with crème fraiche and caviar to send it over the top. Time to celebrate!
1 pound mild fish filets, cut into 1-inch chunks
½ pound peeled and deveined shrimp
½ pound large sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup diced lobster meat (optional)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1½ cups cleaned, halved and thinly sliced leeks (about 1 large or 2 medium)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup vermouth or white wine
1¼ cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 teaspoons drained and rinsed capers
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
Line a baking sheet pan with paper towel. Place all the fish and shellfish evenly spaced across the paper towel. Place another paper towel over the fish and shellfish. Press firmly on the paper towel. Remove the top towel and place another paper towel on top. Press firmly again so that you remove as much liquid as possible. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Using 1 tablespoon of the butter, grease a shallow 1½ quart casserole dish. Set aside.
Place the sliced leeks in a colander and wash under cool water. Dry the leeks with a paper towel.
In a large skillet, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Add the carrots and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture and stir to coat. Cook for one more minute on medium heat, stirring constantly, to cook the flour.
Add the vermouth or white wine, then stir to combine. Add the milk and cream. Simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the peas, capers, salt, white pepper, tarragon, and Italian parsley. Mix gently to combine. You can taste the mixture at this point for seasoning. One note of caution: the capers will have a salty flavor so be careful not to oversalt the mixture.
Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large mixing bowl and let cool to room temperature. After you add the fish you will not be able to taste the mixture, so make sure to check the seasoning at this point. This mixture, without the fish and shellfish, can be prepared one day ahead. Cover the cooled mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Add the fish and shellfish to the vegetable mixture and stir gently to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg with the cream. Lightly flour your work surface and unroll one piece of puff pastry. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry to a thickness of ⅛-inch.
Using a paring knife, cut the dough ½-inch larger than the top of your casserole dish. Place the pastry on top of the filled casserole, pushing the side pastry into the casserole to form a side crust. Brush the pastry with the egg wash.
Now it’s time to get creative! Use the remaining piece of puff pastry to decorate the top of your casserole. You can make circles from the pastry and add them to the top like scales, or you can use a fish-shaped cookie cutter to make little fish for the top. Remember to brush the top of any decorations with egg wash so they get nicely browned during baking.
Finally, cut a few ½-inch slits in the crust to let steam escape during baking.
Place the casserole dish on a baking sheet and bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with the crème fraiche and caviar if you like.
Mary DiSomma, Foodie, Author, Philanthropist, Mother, Wife and so much more...
Mary DiSomma, an enthusiastic and imaginative baker of cookies, is the author and publisher of A Gift of Cookies: Recipes to Share with Family & Friends. She is also a philanthropist, podiatrist, entrepreneur, and mother of four grown children.
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