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Food & Wine

On Christmas Eve, feast Italian-style

Photo Courtesy Of American Institute For Cancer Research The Feast of Seven Fishes is a traditional dish in Italian homes.

The Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve tradition, calls for serving seven individual seafood dishes. Few cooks are willing to do this, though, and even fewer people will eat so much, even once a year. Instead, I invite friends to share this Feast of Seven Fishes, a colorful stew including seven kinds of fish and seafood simmered gently in one big pot.

Guests rave about it. My two secrets: First, chicken broth used as the base gives richer and less fishy flavor than clam broth. It also helps the seafood flavors shine. Second, add ingredients in groups. I start with the clams and mussels so that their juices meld with the base, then quickly remove them so that they are tender and moist when returned to the pot before serving. Add the scallops and calamari last so that they simmer long enough to cook through without becoming rubbery.

My Seven Fishes is a flexible feast. When guests are in agreement, I mash anchovy filets into the base and omit the monkfish. When feeling flush, I replace the cod and monkfish with more luxurious halibut and chunks of lobster tail. When finances are tight, I use sweet-tasting shelled rock shrimp in place of the usual but more expensive kind. If alcohol is an issue, the juice of half a lemon is an excellent substitution for wine. I also recommend passing a basket filled with slices of grilled crusty bread, perfect for soaking up the delicious juices.

If you are squeamish about how squid looks, ask the fishmonger to provide caps but no rosettes of tentacles. Calamari are so essential that if you also don't want to handle them, also have the fishmonger cut the caps into rings for you.

Finally, the fresher the fish, the better. To speed shopping during the holiday crush, order everything a day or more ahead to be picked up or delivered the day of Christmas Eve.

Dana Jacobi is a contributor to the American Institute for Cancer Research. For more information, visit www.danajacobi.com.

Feast of Seven Fishes

• 1 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth

• 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

• 12 littleneck clams

• 1 pound mussels

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

• Pinch of red pepper flakes

• 4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided

• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

• 1/2 cup dry white wine, or 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

• 1 can (14.5-ounce) finely diced tomatoes, or 1 3/4 cups canned chopped tomatoes

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• 1 1/4 pound codfish filet, cut into 8 pieces

• 2 lobster tails, shelled and cut into 8 pieces each, or 1/2 pound monkfish, membrane removed, in 8 pieces

• 1/2 pound large (31-35 count) shrimp, shelled

• 8 sea scallops, halved crosswise

• 1/2 pound calamari, caps cut into 1/2-inch rings

• Grilled slices of Italian bread, optional

 

Pour broth into large Dutch oven or heavy, deep pot. Add garlic, clams and mussels, cover and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Steam 3 minutes, or until shellfish have opened, but not fully. With slotted spoon, transfer shellfish to bowl. Pour liquid from pot into measuring cup to use later, leaving any grit and garlic in pot to discard. Wipe out pot.

Heat olive oil in pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, 4 minutes. Mix in pepper flakes, half of parsley and thyme and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Pour in wine or lemon juice and boil to reduce by half. Add tomatoes and season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Add codfish to sauce and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. After adding fish, do not stir, as this will make cod fall apart. Add lobster, or monkfish, and shrimp and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Add scallops and calamari and cook for 3 minutes.

Return clams and mussels and saved liquid to pot, cover and cook to heat through, 3-4 minutes. Immediately, divide contents of pot among eight wide, shallow bowls. Garnish with remaining parsley and serve immediately. Pass slices of grilled Italian bread to use for sopping up sauce.

Makes 8 servings

Per serving: 288 calories, 7 g fat (1 g sat fat), 8 g carbohydrates, 44 g protein, 1 g fiber, 544 mg sodium

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