Sicilian Seafood Recipes for an Italian Christmas Eve — Feast of Seven Fishes (Free Italy Travel Advice)

In the November 2009 issue of Dream of Italy, Toni Lydecker writes about how the Feast of Seven Fishes is celebrated in Sicily (her article is free to access here). The Feast of Seven Fishes is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Italy. Toni is the author of the new cookbook, Seafood alla Siciliana, from which these special Sicilian Christmas recipes are excerpted:

Recipe: Baccalà and Potato (con patate) Stew alla Siracusana
Makes 3 to 4 servings
Prep time is 20 minutes (plus 36-hour soaking time for the baccalà), cook time is 25 minutes.

When I asked Fiorangela Piccione why this dish is named after her hometown, Siracusa, I expected to hear a tale harking back to the Greeks. “Because my grandmother made it this way,” she replied.

1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
Hot red pepper flakes
2 large potatoes, peeled, halved, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound baccalà (salt cod), soaked for at least 36 hours
4 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or canned tomatoes, chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons salt-preserved capers, soaked in water for a few minutes and drained (optional)
8 to 10 black or green olives, pitted or unpitted
Leaves from several flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped

1. In a large deep skillet, combine the onion and olive oil. Cook over medium heat until the onion is tender but not browned. Stir in the celery and add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two.

2. Add the potatoes, then add water to the halfway point (about 1/2 cup). Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are barely tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the cod into large chunks. Add it to the saucepan along with the tomatoes, capers, and olives. Cook with the cover ajar until the cod is heated through, about 10 minutes.

3. Taste the sauce and add more pepper flakes if needed. Add the parsley. Serve the stew in shallow soup bowls.

Recipe: Octopus (Polipo) al Nero d’Avola Makes 8 to 10 appetizer servings Prep time is five minutes; cooks for about an hour.

Katia Amore, owner of a cooking school in Modica, gave me this family recipe. It calls for simmering the octopus first in water, and then a second time with nero d’Avola, Sicily’s best-known red wine. The octopus turns gorgeously wine colored and delectable.

1 medium octopus (about 3 pounds) or several smaller ones, cleaned
2 lemons 1 bottle nero d’Avola or another fruity red wine
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, whole or torn

1. Place the octopus in a large saucepan with water to cover, plus a couple of inches. Halve 1 of the lemons and add it to the pot. Bring to a boil, adding more hot water as necessary to keep the octopus covered as it curls up.

2. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the octopus is fairly tender (15 to 40 minutes). Transfer it to another saucepan. Add the nero d’Avola and enough of the cooking water to barely cover. Bring to a boil; adjust the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, turning the octopus from time to time. Cool it in the liquid.

— Toni Lydecker