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The Feast of the Seven Fishes

December 27th, 2010

My family lives far away and for six years I have basically not had any of my own family traditions when it comes to the holidays. I am blessed to have wonderful inlaws (about 30 of them) in town and spend holidays with them.

However, this year my husband and I decided to start our own family tradition. In traditional Italian-American style we held The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. We invited family and friends and ended up with about 25 of us gathered before midnight mass.

Here is the menu:

L ‘Antipasto:
*  Soppresseta salami, smoked gouda, parrano, proscuitto plate
*  Olives
* Jalapeno Artichoke dip and crackers
* Yummy salmon and wasabi dip my friend Lisa made! with crackers
*  Shrimp and cocktail sauce
* Bacon-wrapped scallops

Il Primo
* Red Pepper Crab Bisque

Il Primo/Pasta
* Lobster Ravioli in a Champagne Cream Sauce

Il Secondo
* Cioppino (see below) with garlic bread

Il Dolci
* Assorted cookies
* Cannoli
* Fudge

History of Cioppino. Pronounced: CHUH – PEE – NO. Although it originated in Italy, this Italian seafood stew was made popular in San Francisco. The idea is the fishermen would come in to the wharf at the end of the day with their various catch of the day and each of them wouuld contribute some of their catch into a big pot with marinara sauce and spices.
My version (actually my brother’s recipe) involved a thick sauce made of marinara, spices and two pounds of fish fillets that dissolve into the sauce making it super thick and chunky. On top of that I added crab meat, crab legs, shrimp, mussels, giant scallops and live clams.
You must sop it up with garlic bread for the full effect.
I was so crazy busy in the kitchen (have you ever fed 25 people in three courses?) that I didn’t manage to get any pictures of everyone sitting down eating or of the food even! These photos are of the aftermath!
So please forgive my photos. Blurry and not really capturing the crowd or mood. We had two tables set upstairs and the kids played and caused a wonderful ruckus in our finished basement.

I apologize for the blurry photo but wanted to show the ambience — all candlelit and white Christmas lights. I finally found a use for the dozens of empty Bonne Maman jars I have — candle holders for votives.

PS. The history of the word Cioppino is unclear: from www.kitchenproject.com: “The name comes either from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect of the port city of Genoa,meaning “to chop” or “chopped” which described the process of making the stew by chopping up various leftovers of the days catch, but also some say it can be a corruption of the word” il ciuppin” which means ..little soup. ”
However, I like this definition which says it comes from the San Francisco fishermen urging their colleagues to CHIP IN to the communal stew pot on the docks.
My family has a long history in San Francisco, so I love this stew for many reasons.

It has been called the San Francisco version of the French bouillabaisse.
My nephew, who is visiting from South Carolina came over for leftovers last night (we fed another 8 people with leftovers yesterday) said it is like the Italian version of Gumbo!

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  1. December 27th, 2010 at 10:39 | #1

    Wow. Thanks for the details and the photos. It looks like it was so much fun. I’m impressed you entertained 25 people in courses! The menu sounds delicious.

  2. December 27th, 2010 at 11:43 | #2

    It’s a wonderful Italian tradition, Kristi–I’m so happy you celebrated. And yes, you did capture the ambience, down to the wine in the glasses and sauce on the plates!

    But I have to ask you about your table–it’s long an narrow, yes? I am looking for a long, narrow table for my dining room. Where did you get yours? And you tablecloth?

    Lovely, all of it!

  3. December 27th, 2010 at 15:04 | #3

    I had to come back and look again. Love the jar votive holders! I’m curious about the tables too? If I want to entertain more than 6 at a sit down dinner, I’ve got to have a bigger table solution. Is the 2nd table temporary set up in another room?

    • December 27th, 2010 at 15:40 | #4

      A and Stephanie:
      I have an oak table that is longer and narrow. It is in my tiny dining room/kitchen and seats six. Once people are sitting, you can’t even walk around the table — it is that tight. (The top photo)

      Then I have one of those heavy utility fold-up tables (like you would see at a swap meet or something) that seats 8-10. I pushed my loveseat in the corner, took out a few end tables and stuck that table in the middle of my living room. It also took up the entire room. (the second blurry photo — you can see my living room bookshelves in the background)

      So basically I transformed my entire house into a mini restaurant.
      I had two small tables set up in my basement for the kids who didn’t eat much of the seafood, but had snacks and a kid’s movie playing down there.

  4. December 27th, 2010 at 16:22 | #5

    Okay, I love the backdrop of the books in a dining room–so intimate and cozy for a dinner party–I never would have guessed it was your living room! Stephanie, wasn’t your former dining room table long and narrow? I remember seeing it in one of your posts and LOVING it!

  5. December 27th, 2010 at 19:03 | #6

    I love hearing about this sort of tradition, complete with history and etymology! Grazie!

  6. aaonce
    December 30th, 2010 at 08:14 | #7

    Sounds like you (and your guests) had a wonderful time!

  7. January 8th, 2011 at 15:50 | #8

    Awesome, Kristi! I don’t have family close to me either, so can only imagine how wonderful this was! What a delicious-sounding menu. Thanks for sharing!

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