It's Christmas Eve night and after a hectic day of preparation for the Big Day tomorrow, I finally have a few minutes to relax.
I'll be making a turkey with traditional American-style side dishes and pumpkin pie tomorrow. But it wasn't always that way.
When I was growing up, my family — like all Italian-American families I knew — had our big celebration on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. In fact, it wasn't until I went away to college that I realized other people actually celebrated the holiday ON Christmas Day. And opened gifts on Christmas Day.
Our Christmas celebration centered on something called the Dinner of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. And we had — you guessed it — fish!
Even though the dinner is called the "seven" fishes, we never let that hold us back from serving 12, 15, sometimes 20 different fish dishes. Heck no! The more the better. And the more exotic the species of fish, the better, too.
Number one on the menu was always squid stewed in tomato sauce. Yuk, you say! Squid! Well, you've probably eaten squid. You just know it by its more sophisticated-sounding Italian name, calamari.
We also had eel, usually sauteed or stewed. It's actually not bad. In fact, in many cultures (Italian, Japanese, Chinese to name a few) it is considered a delicacy.
Of course we had baccala. Didn't everyone? Baccala is salted, dried cod fish. You had to soak it in water before cooking it to soften it and remove some of the salt.
Also on the menu were fried smelts (fresh sardines), salmon, tuna, baked whitefish, fried halibut, and fish stew.
Often we'd prepare the same type of fish in multiple different ways. Just to prove we could, I think.