Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Feast of the Seven FIshes (Festa dei Sette Pesci)

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is one of many beloved and celebrated family traditions. In my family it was no different. The Vigilia di Natale (Vigil of the Nativity) commemorates the birth of the Baby Jesus, which is the reason for this beautiful and blessed celebration of Christmas.  It must be also noted that the feast of the fishes is not always seven and represents the seven sacrament of the Catholic Church.   Some families prepare and served ten which represented the Stations of the Cross, or thirteen dishes on the night of the Vigilia di Natale which represents the Twelve apostles plus Jesus. The feast goes by a few different names, one of which is Festa dei Sette Pesci, ( the festival of the Seven Fish), Cerone, (great supper) and Cena della Vigilia di Natale (the supper of the Vigilia of the Nativity

The tradition of the fishes dates back to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence of eating meat or having milk products on important holy days, so the meal of choice was usually fish.  The meal menu for the feast consists of seafood and pasta.  The tradition of the fishes has been handed down in families from generation to generation, centuries old and will continue to do so, because even today families continue to value these beautiful traditions. There is no set menu for the feast, so the seafood prepared by families is usually a combination of dried salted cod, sardines, calamari, smelts, squad, eels, mussels, shrimp, oysters, clams, and scallops and many other types of fish. 

Traditions and beliefs, bind families and define them, its embedded in their DNA. Whatever beliefs and traditions families hold dear, one thing transcends all.  Which is the importance of gathering together and coming home from near and far to join  family and friends, and enjoying the beautiful season of Christmas. Sitting together and enjoying the foods this feast has to offer.

The importance of these traditions was no different for my family, these were traditions that have defined my childhood.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a home in which my Mom and Nonni were both great cooks, and  as a child  I watched them with great wonder, never really understanding the knowledge given to me until I became older.  Not only was I being taught our families traditions, but I was also being given a recipe book of our families most loved and appreciated foods.  I never remember measuring cups or spoons, these foods were prepared with a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that, and yet they always tasted perfect, mouth watering and soul touching. I have tried to record and repeat this process and hope that I have done them justice.  I would like to think that my Mom and Nonni look down proud knowing these family traditions continue.

The day before Christmas Eve was very important, my parents would go to the Hill (Federal Hill) and purchase fresh fish for the feast.  They would clean the Shrimp, as well as get the eels and other fish ready for this marathon cooking event.   The Cod would have been purchased and soaked for a few days before it  would be ready to cook that night. My Mother and grandmother would also make a  Linguine in red sauce, antipasto and pizza as well as many other side dishes.  Dinner lasted for many hours, and then ended with great desserts, Homemade Italian cookies, pizzelle's, panetone, and roasted chestnuts as well as many Italian favorite candies.

The aroma of the different fishes cooking as well as the red sauce filled the stairwells of our home, and its path would even be sensed outside our home.  The excitement of Christmas as a child meant many things to me, lots of different fish dishes cooking, and a house full of family, it also meant a night of anticipation as well, because of  the arrival of Santa Claus.  Years have pasted since my childhood days, and most family members have pasted on, but memories and traditions have carried on in my heart and home, and today  I continue to preserved and carry on these traditions to my own family, in hopes that they will pass them on to theirs.  

Christmas Peppermint Bark

12 ounces of chopped semisweet chocolate (1/2 inch pieces)  Ghirardelli
1 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 pound white chocolate chopped (1/2 inch pieces) Ghirardelli
5 candy canes

Line 9 by 13 inch baking dish with foil, shiny side down. Heat 1 inch water in a sauce pan on low heat. Add all except 3/4 cup chocolate in a smaller sauce pan.  Set the pan over steaming water making sure no water falls into chocolate sauce pan. Stir until one-third of chocolate is melted.  Remove pan from saucepan, and keep water at low heat and continue to steam the water.

Slowly add the 3/4 chocolate into the ready melted saucepan until all melted.  Melting like this insures that chocolate does not burn or over process.

Add the pan to the top of the water saucepan just long enough to melt all the chocolate. Mix in 3/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract into melted chocolate.

Once melted pour quickly onto the layered baking pan, making sure to remove any air bubbles. Leave aside at room temp about 15-20 minutes.

While the chocolate is firming.

Put 1 cup of white chocolate into a saucepan and repeat the process done with the chocolate.
Stir in remaining peppermint extract.  Once melted pout over the chocolate in  the baking pan making sure to spread evenly.  Sprinkle the crushed peppermint quickly, if needed press them into the white chocolate.  Leave at room temp for about 1 1/2 hours. Once harden break the bark with your hands into pieces which will be uneven.  This can be stored at room temp in a airtight container.  I like putting my homemade candy in a Christmas tin container.   This is great for gift giving for candy lover friends and family.  Homemade is always an appreciated gift.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Italian Limoncello Cookies

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted or salted butter (room temp)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons of Limoncello
1/3 cup milk

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons of milk
1 tablespoon limoncello

Heat oven 375

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a  medium mixing bowl.  Set to one side

In a large mixing bowl beat together the butter and sugar for about 2 minutes until fluffy.

Add egg and vanilla to the butter mixture, beat until mixed well and scrape sides of the bowl.  Add Limoncello and combine well.  Add half of the flour mix to butter mixture and combine well, then add milk mixing well.  Add the remaining flour and mix until totally combined.  The cookie dough will be thick and sticky almost like a cake mix.

Use a small cookie scoop about one tablespoon onto lined  parchment paper cookie sheets.
Bake at 375 for 10-13 minutes until bottoms as golden.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

In Mixing bowl beat together powdered sugar, butter, milk and Limoncello until smooth and no lumps.  I put wax paper under.  You can either drizzle, dip tops of cookies however you like. And let dry on racks. 

These can be served when needed or can be stored in an airtight container lined with foil once the frosting is dry.