La Vigilia (Part II)

I’m sorry it has taken so long for me to get back to the blog. Things have been pretty crazy around our house with all the shopping and cooking and family visits and so on. Probably a lot like your house, right?

I promised I’d post the full menu from our Feast of the Seven Fishes and I didn’t want to leave you hanging, so here it is:

Antipasti:

Vongole (Clams) – Daddy put these on the grill just until they opened. Mommy served them just like that with a squirt of lemon juice. I didn’t like the clams whole – they were just to big – but Mommy cut mine into smaller bites and I thought they were delicious.

Stuffed Calamari (Squid) – Mommy sautéed half a diced onion in 4 tablespoons of butter, added 2 sliced green onions/scallions and about a teaspoon of lemon zest, then the chopped tentacles. Then she added a couple of handfuls of crumbled butter crackers (like Ritz or Townhouse) and removed it from the heat, tossing to coat the cracker crumbs, until all the moisture was absorbed. Then she added some chopped fresh parsley, just to give it a little color. When the stuffing was cool enough to handle, she stuffed it into the bodies – this was messy work and you can’t be squeamish – the best tools for the job are your hands. When it was time to eat, Daddy put the stuffed calamari onto the grill just for about 5-6 minutes until the flesh became opaque. Then Mommy sliced them into rounds and served them. Yum!

Pan-fried Smelts – This was nothing fancy, but very tasty. Mommy dipped the smelts in lemon juice and then dredged them in seasoned flour (just salt and pepper) and then put them into hot oil in the frying pan – about 6-8 at a time so she didn’t overcrowd the pan. She tests the oil with a little flour to make sure it’s hot. If the flour sizzles when it hits the hot oil, your oil is hot enough. The smelts were fried about 2-3 minutes on each side and then removed to a plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil – though if your oil is hot enough there shouldn’t be a lot of excess. Working in batches, Mommy fried about 2 dozen smelts. Then, she put them all into a serving dish, drizzled them with some really good olive oil, lemon juice and sprinkled on a little fresh, chopped parsley – again, for a little color. Everyone said they were delicious – including me!

Zuppa e Insalata:

Maryland Crab Soup – No, it’s not very Italian, but Italians (most immigrants, really) are good at using local ingredients, so it made sense to have Maryland Crab soup in Baltimore. And the crabmeat was from Maryland, which is important. Like most soups, this one is relatively simple and made with few ingredients. The really nice thing about this one is that it takes no time at all and it can be doctored to your taste. Here’s how Mommy made ours: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, empty one 28oz can of crushed tomatoes. Using the empty can, add about one and a half cans of water. Also add three packets of concentrated vegetable stock (lots of soup companies make these now, so pick your favorite – this is not bullion though – it should be like a paste, not granules.) Most recipes call for beef broth instead of vegetable, but this needed to be a completely vegetarian menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. To the liquid, add 2 tablespoons of Old Bay seasoning (even if you’re not in Maryland, most grocery stores carry this now) and one bag of “Soup Vegetables.” You should be able to find something along these lines in the frozen veggie section of your grocery store. Otherwise, use about 3-4 cups of a mixture of veggies of your choosing. Bring the whole thing to a boil on medium heat and then reduce to low; cover and simmer about 5 minutes. At this point Mommy turned it off and left it sitting on the stove so we could go to Christmas Eve Mass. When we got home she turned it back on and let it come up to a simmer and then added 1 lb of crabmeat, stirred it, covered it and let it simmer another 10 minutes. You can skip the turning it off and bringing it back to simmer before adding the crabmeat if you’re ready to eat right away.

Insalata di Bacala – this is Nonno’s secret recipe (okay, it’s not really secret…) so he made it and brought it with him to dinner. Bacala is traditional for Christmas Eve and it can be prepared in lots of different ways. Bacala is dried, salted cod. It gets rehydrated, cooked and broken into little pieces and mixed with olives, roasted red peppers, fresh herbs, olive oil and lemon juice for this salad.

Pasta:

Gamberi alla Luciana con Rigatoni – this is one of Mommy’s favorite dishes and she usually only has it for Christmas Eve (though I liked it so much too that she might start making it a little more frequently.) It has been adapted from the famous Alfredo Viazzi’s cookbook (yes, he’s that Alfredo.) His recipe assumes you are operating in a commercial or restaurant kitchen and have access to all the different sauces that they keep simmering away on the stove top. That’s why it’s been modified a bit. It has quite a few ingredients, but isn’t really that complicated: Melt 5 tablespoons of butter (or a combination of butter and olive oil if you want to try to lighten it up a bit) in a deep saucepan. Add 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped; saute until golden. Add 3 anchovy fillets (and if you think you don’t like anchovies, just trust me and add them anyway,) 5 leaves of chopped, fresh tarragon, 1 tablespoon of chopped, fresh parsley, a pinch of thyme, a pinch of nutmeg (Mommy uses freshly grated – she keeps whole nutmegs in the freezer and grates them on a microplane whenever she needs it,) 1/2 teaspoon of dry basil, a pinch of cayenne, a pinch of ginger, a pinch of tumeric, 10-12 grinds of black pepper, a couple of “glugs” of Worcestershire sauce, 5 drops of Tabasco (more or less to taste) and cook until the anchovies turn to paste. Add 1/2 cup of dry white wine (something you’d be willing to drink, Please!) and reduce – about 5 minutes. Add a jar of basic tomato sauce (Mommy uses Ragu – this really shouldn’t be anything fancy since you’ve got all those other flavorings already in there) and cook 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the juice of half a lemon and salt. Drop in 1-2 lbs of peeled and de-veined shrimp (depending on how many people you’re feeding. Also, the size of the shrimp is up to you. Mommy has used jumbo and medium – it usually depends what is on sale.) Cook exactly 3 minutes. Drain shrimp. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a baking pan or casserole dish.

Pour half of the sauce into the dish.

Arrange shrimp and then cover with remaining sauce.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup of grated, good, hard, Italian cheese (Mommy uses Locatelli Romano) on top. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Mommy tossed it with Rigatoni when it came out of the oven and served it family style.

There was enough for me to have leftovers later in the week. This time Mommy was smart and took me out of my fancy clothes – I could have probably eaten right in the bathtub!

Secondi:

Rockfish in Salt Dome – this is just as it sounds, and I wrote about it in the last entry so I won’t go into too much detail again here. It was delicious, again.

We also had spinach sautéed in garlic and olive oil and baked, caramelized fennel for contorni, or side dishes.

All in all, it was a pretty delicious meal. I hope it inspires you to consider trying the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or even just a fish dish or two) next Christmas Eve.

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