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Tuesday, December 01 2009
W hat is the Feast of the Seven Fishes? According to Mario Batali, "It's what Italians do when they say they're fasting." More precisely, the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. "No one's quite sure of the significance of the number," says Batali. "Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus."

Regardless of the religious symbolism, for most people the main point of the meal is to gather family and friends and enjoy delicious food. In Batali's Italian-American family, his grandmother used to host the feast, with everyone pitching in. "She would let us kids help her make fresh pasta," Batali recalls. "Then she'd lay it out on towels on our beds to dry for the day." After dinner, they'd open half their presents, saving the rest for Christmas Day.

This Christmas, we asked Batali to put together a special Feast of the Seven Fishes menu for Epicurious. The dishes he chose represent the traditional elements of the meal: antipasti to get things going; simple, classic pastas; three hearty main courses; and plenty of desserts to finish on a sweet note. Most of the recipes hail from the Campania region, specifically the Amalfi coast, which Batali feels produces Italy's most spectacular seafood. (When asked why he loves the area so much, he simply said, "Have you been there?")

One item that might be unfamiliar to some American palates is the baked eel, but Batali stresses that this is an essential part of an Italian Christmas Eve celebration. "To most Italians, it would practically be sacrilegious not to have it," he says. Have your fishmonger skin and gut the eel, and the dish will be a snap to prepare—and you might be won over by its flavorful succulence.

Batali also demo'd three of his recipes in exclusive videos and shared preparation and serving tips.

Drink Suggestions

Before the meal, an appetite-piquing aperitif is traditional with the antipasti. "I like bitter Campari mixed with freshly squeezed blood orange juice," says Batali. You could mix up a batch of this cocktail in a glass pitcher or punch bowl. To accompany the feast, he recommends a white wine from the Amalfi coast such as the floral Marisa Cuomo Ravello Bianco. After dinner, traditional sips would be limoncillo, the lemony liqueur from Campania, and espresso.

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 10:39 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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