Christmas crustaceans: Make a feast — with seven fishes!

Christmas crustaceans: Make a feast — with seven fishes!
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

I love Christmastime: the countless hours at work, cold weather, long lines at the malls, extra heavy traffic and high balances on my credit cards … um, I mean … Christmas is the time for giving, for family, and most of all, for cooking those special once-a-year meals.

I’m from an Italian American family, who always has a fish feast for Christmas, known as the “seven fishes.” This tradition started in southern Italy, and is supposed to represent the celebration of waiting for the birth of baby Jesus. Because this was a holy day, religious Roman Catholics will not eat meat or dairy products — instead, they eat fish. After long conversation, my Aunt Lucille finally broke down and gave me a few of our old family tips, secrets and recipes (which are less like traditional recipes and more like, “a pinch of this, a pinch of that.”). The most important thing I’ve learned is the technique, and how to cook the meal, rather than what actually goes in it. This is what separates good food from really delicious food. Here we go!

Seafood salad

Serves eight


8 oz. carrots, rough chopped

8 oz. celery, rough chopped

1 large onion, rough chopped

6 cloves garlic

6 bay leaves

3 tbls. salt

1-1/2 lbs. conch meat

2 lbs squid (calamari) tubes and tentacles, cleaned

1 1/2 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 octopus, 6 to 8 lbs.

10 cloves of garlic

2 cups celery, dice small

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 tbls. fresh parsley, chopped

1 cup broth rendered from sea food

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 lemons, juiced


Black pepper

Mmm, Shrimp Oreganata!
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

One day before you plan to serve this dish, combine the first six ingredients in a pot, fill it with 1-1/2 gallons of water and let simmer until vegetables are soft. While the vegetables are cooking. Slice the squid into 1/4-inch rings, and separate the tentacles. When the vegetables are done, set them aside, strain the liquid, return it to the stove and bring to a rolling boil. Drop the squid rings into the water and cook for between one and five minutes. Taste test the squid; it should be tender, and not too chewy. When the squid is done cooking, place the pieces in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Let the tentacles boil for a minute or so more; they need longer to soften. Then, remove the tentacles and transfer them to the ice water bath. Next add the shrimp to the water on the stovetop. Again, remember not to overcook them — once they’re white all the way through, they are done. When the water comes back up to a boil, add the conch and the octopus. Bring the water to a simmer, and cook the conch about 45 minutes. Let it cool, and slice it as thinly as possible. The octopus will take longer to cook through; it will be ready when it has shrunken to roughly 1/3 of its original size, and its tentacles are soft enough to pull apart. Then, slice the tentacles into 1/4-inch thick rings. After the seafood is done cooking, be sure to save one cup of the liquid — the “flavorful water.” Put the seafood in a bowl and toss with celery, parsley, red pepper, “flavorful water,” and olive oil. Refrigerate overnight. When you’re ready to serve, season the mixture with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Shrimp Oreganata

Serves eight


2 lbs. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

3 cups plain breadcrumbs

1 tbs. dried oregano

1 tsp. fresh garlic, minced

1 tsp. black pepper

2 tbls. fresh parsley, chopped fine

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. paprika

3 oz. extra virgin oil

1/4 cup white wine, whatever you have is fine

Combine all the ingredients but the shrimp in a mixing bowl and set aside. Arrange the shrimp on a baking pan, ungreased. Pack the bread crumbs over the shrimp and bake them in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or so. Serve with lemons.

Lobster Fra Diavlo

Serves eight

2 two-pound lobsters

1 cup white onion, minced

12 cups canned crushed tomatoes

2 bay leaves

1 cup broth

4 tbls. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbls. fresh garlic, minced

2 dz. little neck clams, rinsed

Four of the seven fishes, right here in this seafood salad!
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

2 dz. mussels, cleaned

1 1/2 cups white wine, whatever you have

1 tbls. crushed red pepper flakes

3 tbls fresh basil leaves, sliced thin

2 tbls. fresh parsley, chopped

2 oz. unsalted butter

2 lbs linguini

Boil two cups of water in a large pot, add the lobsters, cover the pot and let steam for three minutes. Set lobsters aside and save the broth. When the lobsters are cold, split them in half with a sharp knife, right down the middle. Clean out the cavity and crack the claws with the back of the knife. Set aside. In a medium pot sauté the onions over medium heat with the two tbs. of oil until soft, then add tomatoes and the steaming liquid, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil for the linguine. Put the rest of the olive oil in your largest sauté pan, and add the garlic and clams on high heat until brown. Place the lobsters in the pan, cut side up. De-glaze with the white wine and add the mussels, red pepper, and tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for about five minutes. Let’s add the linguine to the boiling water, stirring often to prevent sticking. Let it boil for about nine minutes for perfect, al dente pasta. Pull the clams and mussels out of the pan as they start to open. The lobsters should be done when the last clam comes out. Strain the linguine, add it to the sauce and finish it with the basil, parsley, butter, salt and pepper. Arrange beautifully on a platter and indulge!

Homemade zeppoles with chocolate and Madera sauce

Serves eight


2 vanilla beans, split

2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

8 oz. unsalted butter

1/2 tsp. salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

8 eggs

3 cups canola oil, for frying

8 oz. milk chocolate

1/4 heavy cream

2 cups Madera wine

1 brown paper bag

Powdered sugar

King’s feast: It’s that special time of year — to chow down on seven delicacies from under the sea. Our resident chef will show you how.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

In a medium sauce pan, combine vanilla bean, water, butter, salt and sugar, and bring to medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and stir continuously until the mix forms a ball. Transfer the dough into a bowl and add the eggs, one at a time. Don’t add the next egg until the first one is completely mixed in. In a medium sauce pan, add the oil over medium heat, preferably 350 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil by putting a small piece of the dough in it; it should start to fry right away. While you’re waiting for your oil to get hot, melt the chocolate, cream and Madera over a double boiler. When your oil is ready, carefully drop about two tablespoons of the dough into the oil. A word to the wise: do not overcrowd the oil with too many zeppoles at once. This will cause the oil to drop in temperature, and yield soggy, greasy zeppoles. Fry for about three minutes on each side, and then put the zeppoles in the brown bag to drain leftover oil. Then, arrange them on a platter, drizzle them with melted chocolate sauce finish with lots of powdered sugar.

Reach Arts Editor Juliet Linderman at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8309.