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Monday, April 22

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« A Little Goes a Long Way The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 11 »

Review Tue Dec 23 2008

Memories of a Special Feast

My German last name hides the fact that I'm a second generation Italian-American on my mother's side. And growing up, Christmas was usually spent with my mom's side of the family -- which meant meant Christmas Eve was far more important, celebration-wise than Christmas Day. Oh sure, we got our presents from Santa on the 25th, but Christmas Eve dinner was the highlight of the holiday season.

The dinner was always centered around lots of seafood; only later did I learn that it was a variation on the Feast of Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve meal. By my count, we had at least that many: anchovies mixed into the breading on the stuffed artichokes; oysters Rockefeller; shrimp cocktail; fried calamari and smelts; and spaghetti with a gravy containing lobster, calamari, fresh cod (or other white fish) and baccalà (salt cod). Add to that antipasti, deviled eggs, salad, broccoli (always overcooked), scalloped potatoes, Italian sausage simmered in marinara, and whatever other dishes my grandmother, mother and aunts decided to make, and you've got quite a meal.

My dad would always joke that this was a "trick supper": there were multiple courses, so he'd always load up his plate with a good amount of food when what he thought was the main course came out of the kitchen, then be caught off guard (and over-full) when yet another delicacy was brought out.

There was always plenty of Dr. Pepper (the drink of choice for some reason, but I can't imagine Christmas Eve without it), and I'd be given the honored task of running to the fridge to get my grandpa another Old Style. After the plates were cleared and leftovers put away, there'd be coffee and tea served with the multitude of Christmas cookies while we all played Uno around the dining room table.

feastofthesevenfishes.jpgMemories of this magical meal are some of my dearest, so it was with great sentimentality that I read the graphic novel cum cookbook, Feast of the Seven Fishes. Written by Robert Tinnell with illustrations by Ed Piskor (of American Splendor fame) and Alex Saviuk and recipes by Tinnell's wife Shannon, the book tells the tale of a Christmas romance in a small town in West Virginia. A waspy Italian college girl home for the holidays spends a night on the town with some Italian friends. She hits it off with one of the guys, Tony, and gets invited to Christmas Eve dinner. There she meets Tony's extended family, tries eel for the first time and maybe falls in love... but I shouldn't give away the end. It's a touching story that my dad might even enjoy as an outsider at this remarkable family event.

I haven't yet tried any of the recipes, but they look great, and a couple come very close to my own family's dishes. The fried smelt or linguini with clam sauce would be easy entry points for the beginning Italian cook, while the baccalà a la Pizzaiola might be a bit advanced, what with the soaking of the fish for three days. The recipes are written very conversationally, which may appeal to the more experimental cook but less so to by-the-numbers types.

If you're looking for a gift for an Italian-American friend or family member, Feast of the Seven Fishes would be a delight. It's available on Amazon for express shipping, or check your local independent bookstore.

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carolyn / December 23, 2008 10:55 AM

what a sweet review. :)

and dang your family's feast sounds DELISH!! :)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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