The Feast of the Seven Fishes Recipes, Insalata di Frutta Di Mare

 The Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Recipe 1

Insalata di Frutta di Mare or Fruit of the sea salad!

The seven Fishes holiday dishes.

Great food with a story is always a fun night.

These dishes are my adaptation of the dishes my grandparents and then my mother served for Christmas Eve. The abundance was memorable!

I still remember the long lines at the fish market in Fair Haven. The entire block was filled with the aroma of slow cooked crab sauce and frying fish. What was somewhat off putting in my childhood was accepted as "what we did" in my adolescence and became beloved in my adulthood.

You needn’t be Catholic or even Italian to celebrate Christmas eve with an over the top seafood dinner. So many the world's best cooking traditions are rooted in religious and cultural ritual and any time I a have a chance to explore traditional feasts, I dive right in! I am a secular humanist myself, but tradition and faith are not the same. Go for it.

For 25 years at my Woodstock then Saugerties restaurant New World Home Cooking I served the Feast of the seven fishes on Christmas eve and it was one of my most popular special menu events of the year. Everyone came, regardless of religion or lack of it. Great food with a story is always a fun night.

The Fruit of the Sea! So fresh, So Clean, So Healthy, So GOOD!

Feast of the Seven Fishes, DISH ONE!

Insalata di Frutta Di Mare -

This is a perfect starter, fresh tender and texturally contrasting seafood in a lemony, herbal dressing 

This is a family favorite in my house and is delicious all year long.

It can be made with a large array of seafood but is also good just as a shrimp, or calamari, or octopus salad.

This is a minimum of 3 "fishes" but if you use the octopus and scungilli, that is 5!


Serves 4 -6

For the seafood

20-30 PEI or Maine mussels in the shell (about a pound)

1 pound of smallish (31-40 per lb) wild gulf shrimp, (frozen are fine)

1 lb calamari, tubes and tentacles preferred, tubes sliced into ¼ inch rings

1/2 pound baby octopus, or 2 prepared octopus tentacles, sliced (optional)

1 cup canned scungilli, rinsed (optional)

1 cup white wine

4 cups water

2 fresh bay leaves

1 lemon, cut into slices.

Big Bowl of ice water

Prepare the seafood: (It's a labor of love)

Clean the mussels by checking for any beards and removing any debris from the shell.

Discard and open or cracked mussels. Take a good whiff. Discard any that smell off. 


Peel and devein the shrimp, removing the entire tail. You may be tempted to buy peeled and deveined Asian shrimp, but may I say without hesitation that they are crap. Ok, I said it. Wild American or at least Gulf shrimp are absolutely superior in taste, texture and environmental footprint. Read this if you dare. It costs about the price of a cup of coffee to upgrade from dirty farmed shrimp with no flavor to delicious, nutty flavored wild shrimp. Think about it.

Cut the Calamari into rings, not too thin. I recommend about 1/3-1/2 inch thick. My philosophy of purchasing squid is with shrimp. Do your best to get American ( Rhode Island squid is amazing, Chinese is disgusting).

Prep the octopus if using. Remove the heads of the baby octopus, cutting them off right above where the legs converge. You can freeze them fo later use. I particularly like them in long cooked red sauces as they give off a ton of flavor, but can be tough in salad.

Scungilli is the Italian name for Whelks, or northern sea snails. They are the cold water cousin of the popular Caribbean Conch. They are sold in tins, fully cooked, sliced and ready to eat. Just pop open the can, rinse and add to the salad. (Unless you are a super hardcore scalawag, and know where to obtain raw whelks. If this is you, you don't need my advice)

What you are most likely to find in the canned seafood section of a good market
Whelks, or sea snails, Scalawag style

Cooking the seafood.

Now, we are going to cook each seafood item separately and then plunge them into salted ice water to stop the cooking. We do this why? Because these different species have different cooking times. Again, good cooking is a labor of love.

In a heavy pot with a tight fitting lid bring the wine, lemon slices, bay leaves and water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a rolling boil boil.

Have a large bowl of moderately salted ice water ready.

•When the wine-water mix is boiling hard, add the mussels and cover.

Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened. 

•Remove the mussels from the cooking liquid with a "spider" or slotted spoon and put them into the bowl of ice water.

•Bring the cooking liquid back to a boil. When boiling rapidly, add the shrimp, give a stir and cook one or two minutes, or until the shrimp are pink. Don’t over cook them.

•Remove then with a slotted spoon to the bowl of ice water. Adding more ice or water if needed. 

•Bring the cooking liquid back to a rolling boil and drop in the calamari. Stir and watch it cook. Within a minute or so the squid should turn bright white and be cooked. Check it but again, don’t overcook it.  

•Remove the squid to the ice water as well and submerge.

•If you are using baby octopus, bring the cooking solution back to a boil. Plunge the octopus in and stir. When the brith comes back to a boil, turn it off, cover the pot and let the octopus "bathe" in the broth while you remove the mussel meat from the shell which should take about 3-5 minutes.

• Now remove the octopus and cool in the ice water as well. .

Now, when your seafood is cool, drain it and remove the mussels from the shells.

 Put all of the cleaned, cooked and cooled seafood into a large bowl.

For the Dressing and Veggies for the Salad

Don't be tempted to cut back on the onions and celery. The texture of celery and onions is a vital part of the refreshing appeal of thgis salad. By letting tghe onions and celery sit int the dressing, the vinegar and lemon juice soften the onions a bit, taming their pungency.

Juice of 5 lemons ( about 5-6 fluid ounces)

1/2 cup white vinegar

1 garlic clove, cut in half

a two finger pinch of salt

2 medium white onion, peeled, quarrtered and sliced thinly

5 ribs celery including the leaves, cut into thin pieces on a slight bias. (The lighter inner ribs are best here)

2 medium red tomato, diced, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, cut in half

2 tbls capers

6 sprigs parsley, chopped 

Small bunch of mint, chopped

1/2 cup best quality EV olive oil ( and more for drizzling)

In a separate mixing bowl, add the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt and onions and let soak about 10 minutes, to mellow the onions.

Add the remaining ingredients and give a toss.

Pour over the seafood, stir and chill at least 20 minutes before serving.

Serve with more lemons and olive oil in the side.

Store any leftovers in an airtight container or bag for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.


Glazed with olive oil, redolent of herbs and lemon...mmmmmm

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