Saturday, December 25, 2010
I have no idea where the concept of the Seven Fishes comes from. Why do Italians eat seven types of fish on Christmas eve? No idea. If you want to know why there are eight nights of Chanuka, I’m your girl. Religious underpinnings of Christian holidays? Not so much. But luckily I’m as comfortable cooking up bacala as I am flipping a latke.
This Christmas we are in Bari, in Puglia, where my husband was born and where his family still lives. So naturally we did the fish thing last night. But even when we spend Christmas with my sister in Westchester we do the fish thing. But there is a big difference. In Westchester we head to an amazing fish store in Mount Kisco, where I arrive with a shopping list of all the ingredients of the dishes I’ll prepare that night. There is an awful lot of planning, shopping, preparing and cooking involved.
Instead, in Bari, things are much simpler. In fact, if you can believe it, control-freak me didn’t even do the fish shopping. Sophie and Domenico went to the fish store. With no list. And that was that.
The beauty of the seven fishes in Bari is that the raw ingredients are so fantastic that we don’t do much to them. In fact we just leave most of them raw.
We can actually see the fishing boats from Domenic's mother's window, so freshness is not an issue. Well, it is an issue, actually, when the fish are literally flipping fresh. The cicale that were flopping around the fish store this afternoon were still flopping around in the fridge and then in the sink as I tried to clean them. As were the gamberi. I can do a lot of things, but shelling live shrimp...slightly more than icky.
But anyway, I got through it, and here is our meal. A few more than seven fishes, I think. And really only two recipes to include, since only two of the fishes made it into the oven. The rest we ate raw. Once they settled down.
Oysters which the fishmonger said were local. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not. But they certainly tasted delicious. They were huge.
This dish is called tagliatelle. But not the pasta. These are fresh squid that are cut into tagliatelle-sized strips, and eaten raw. They are kind of chewy, but in a good way.
These shrimp were so fresh they flipped out of my hands as I was trying to clean them.
Capitone is a traditional Christmas dish. This is eel that has been battered, fried and then preserved in vinegar. You buy it already made. I have never really liked it. Too fatty and vinegary for me. But Domenico and Emma, like most Italians, can't get enough of it.
These little sardines are 'cooked' in a bath of vinegar. We buy them already prepared at the alimentari and they are one of my favorites.
Cicale are a kind of Italian crayfish. They were flipping out of the vats at the fish store. I guess I could have used them to make a pasta sauce, but we just added them to the plate of crudi.
Noce are a kind of clam that I've only ever seen in Bari. It's one of those things I eat raw, trying not to think about whether or not I really should. I could have eaten 2 dozen myself.
Even I draw the line at eating raw mussels.
The fishmongers in Bari can open bivalves at the speed of light. So ordering 2 dozen mussels, opened, is no biggie. But if your fish store won’t do this for you, steam them just enough so that they open and you can take off the top shell.
2 dozen mussels, opened
1 cup of bread crumbs
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 cup of olive oil (plus some for drizzling)
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 180C/350F
Place opened mussels in a oven tray large enough to hold them all.
Place bread crumbs, garlic and parsley in a food processor, and whizz until parsley and garlic are mixed in. Place in bowl and add olive oil and mix with hands until crumbs are moist. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
Place a good amount of the bread crumb mixture all over the mussels. Drizzle with olive oil.
Place in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes, just until cooked. You don’t want to over cook them.
Dentice alle Olive (Sea Bream with Olives)
This is a very typical Barese way of preparing fish. We had Dentice, which translates as Sea Bream, but it works for any sort of fish like sea bass or red snapper.
Dentice - however much you need for the amount of people you are serving.
1/3 cup of olives per person
lemon, parsley, salt & pepper
Have the fishmonger scale and clean your fish, leaving it whole.
Season inside of fish with salt and pepper. Stick in a few slices of lemon and a sprig of parsley. Spread some oil over the entire fish, and then season with salt and pepper.
Place fish on tray, and scatter olives around it. drizzle with a bit more oil, and pour some wine in the pan. Just enough to cover the bottom by about a 1/4 inch.
Bake at 180C/350C until done. A smallish fish, that serves 1 or 2 people, takes about 20 minutes, a bigger fish, that serves 4 will take about 40-45 minutes.
Take out of oven, and let sit for 5 minutes and then fillet and serve with the olives.