I snapped this photo in a Tuscan fish market. Most of Tuscany is landlocked, but that doesn't prevent its citizenry from adoring a good piece of frutti di mare fresh from the Mediterranean or Adriatic.
Traditionally, Catholics ate no meat on sacred days, of which Christmas Eve is one--in this case, in honor of the birth of the baby Jesus. Since we're Christian but not Catholic, it was still a learning experience for us. We enjoyed this feast with our friends Patricia and Aaron. They included us in their family Seder during Passover earlier this year, so it was a fine symmetry sharing this Christian feast with them. We convened at Angeli Caffe in West Hollywood, where they served The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve-Eve-Eve. Two days early is close enough for me.
Why seven types of fish? Stories explaining this number are as plentiful as, well, fish in the sea. Most of them are numerological in origin: seven is thought to be the number of perfection, since God rested on the seventh day. Then there are the seven sacraments, the Seven Hills of Rome, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven utterances of Christ on the cross. Seven shows up a lot in the book of Revelations, too. Practically speaking, though, the number of fish people eat on Christmas Eve seems to have more to do with availability and wealth than any other factor.
Traditionally the seven fish include baccalà, dried, salted cod. It is so prevalent in Italy that I think it must be the national fish. But we didn't have baccalà, and frankly, I'm not sorry, because it is stout and aggressively fishy, without the delicate texture and flavor of most fresh fish. I once knew a man who broke up with a beautiful Italian woman because she served him meal after meal of baccalà, until he'd finally had enough. We all have our limits, I guess.
AntipastiOur antipasti plate got us off to a good start: a piece of seared tuna dressed with a saffron and red wine vinaigrette--I could have stopped right there and just ordered another six or eight pieces; seared sardines--my favorite part of that was the fried Meyer lemon slice with which it was topped--sweetly zingy!; and an Insalata di Mare alla Griglia, that is, grilled seafood salad that included shrimp, mussels and calamari. It was like having a high-quality sampler platter.
So we got our seven fish in there--I counted eight. Well, fish and seafood, if we must split hairs. And I won't. I'll just say...
Belated Happy Hanukkah!
Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!