Family. Friends. Food. Fun. What the holidays mean to me. And the four words chosen to "represent" today's round of Alphabe-Thursday's Letter F.
La Virgilia. Italian for "the Eve" of Christ's birth. My favorite night of the entire year. For Italian-Americans with roots south of Rome, it is all about the fish. Not just one fish, but seven, and sometimes more than seven. The Feast of the Seven Fishes - there are different stories as to why this particular number, some say it represents the week before the big day, others say it represents the seven Sacraments (Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction).
Meat on the Eve was a no-no in my home growing up. I still follow that tradition. I haven't hosted a Christmas Eve dinner in years, but the home I am invited to upholds all the traditions. I am lucky to be a part of it.
For a lot of Italians (my family definitely), the Eve is more important than the actual day, which would become almost a blur as we liked to party into the wee hours, with an open house policy for friends and neighbors to wander in, attending the extra-lengthy Midnight Mass and then start opening gifts, well, you get the picture.
The cast of fish characters always included clams, either baked or on the half shell, or in a sauce over a bed of steaming linguine.
Frutta di mare (fruit of the sea). A cold seafood salad which usually contains shrimp, squid, scungilli (conch), sometimes octopus, sometimes crab meat, sometimes lobster (depends on the cook and her pocketbook). Mussels and clams are shown in this Google photo, not in my version, though.
The dressing is always olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, garlic, fresh chopped parsley, salt & pepper. I like to add chopped red onion and sliced black olives. No specific amount, use your eyes and have a few tasting forks handy.
Now we get a little exotic with our tastes. We have the pulpo salad. Octopus. Can be very chewy and not for all tastes but I enjoy it when made the right way. You can buy it cleaned and ready to cut up. Same dressing as frutta di mare but without onion or olives.
Well, if you are still reading this post, that's great, you are not a squeamish type.
Another fish sure to make an appearance was baccala (salt cod). It would be made into fritters with cut lemons for garnish or baked in a tomato sauce with olives and capers. I have tried this recipe from Epicurious and it is very good.
Click here to see it.
My favorite and my mother's specialty was lobster fra diavolo. Served over vermicelli (a type of spaghetti).
I am so sorry that I do not have photos of these dishes. I tried to find decent ones on Google but nothing that really does these dishes the justice they deserve. My mom would cook a dozen lobsters, baked in the oven with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, pinches of crushed red pepper to taste and drizzled with olive oil. Spoon that sauce richly flavored with the lobster juices over your spaghetti, oh boy. Yum.
Of course we had to have a vegetable. Usually broccoli rabe.
There would be lots of loaves of Italian bread and a few bottles of vino. For the non-fish eaters there would be spaghetti or ravioli with plain red sauce and eggplant parmigiana.
And then desserts, usually a procession led by my mother and various aunts carrying out trays and trays of cookies, pastries, cream puffs, cheesecake, fresh fruit, and my favorite
Struffoli! This was last year's batch. I add them to my cookie trays. Struffoli are little balls of dough fried and coated with honey. I find them addictive. If I make them this year I will try to write down the recipe to share.
These are some of my Christmas Eve memories. In addition to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday, I will be sharing with Designs by Gollum for Foodie Friday and The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays. Thanks, ladies, for hosting each week.