Although the custom originated in Southern Italy, the Feast of the Seven Fishes has become an Italian-American tradition on Christmas Eve. It's the last day of Advent and a festive family dinner of fish and seafood (no meat) is customary in anticipation for the midnight birth of Baby Jesus. Several theories speak to the origin of the number 7 -- the seven hills of Rome; the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic church; and the most repeated number in the Bible, seven, is mentioned 700 times!
A wide variety of fish and seafood share the Christmas Eve table with spaghetti, soup and vegetable fare -- fried whiting or sole in lemon sauce, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, shallots, baccala (salted cod), and calamari (squid) in marinara tomato sauce.
Our new and expanded recipe book, Culinary Clues around the World 2.0, contains 11 fish and seafood recipes from several parts of the world, any of which could grace your Christmas Eve feast. The one we've picked may have originated in southern France, but we can imagine it on any family table in southern Italy too.
Coquilles Saint Jacques
2 pounds Russet potatoes, washed and peeled
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons cream or milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter or substitute butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk – dairy, soy or almond
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut potatoes into small chunks and add to salted water in a medium sauce pan; cook over medium heat until tender. Drain and place in a medium mixing bowl; add melted butter and crush potatoes into smaller pieces using a masher. Puree potatoes, using an electric mixer or egg beater, adding milk or cream until mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mashed potatoes into a pastry bag with a star tip, or use a plastic freezer back with one corner trimmed to accommodate a star tip. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, soften shallots in butter over low heat. Add flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Pour milk and wine into saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Lower heat and cook an additional minute or two; remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper. Add scallops and 1/2 cup chopped Gruyere cheese; stirring to combine.
Spoon filling into four scallop shells or four small gratin dishes. Pipe mashed potatoes around the rim of each shell or dish. Sprinkle top with remaining grated cheese. Set shells or gratin dishes on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Finish under a broiler to give the cheese and potatoes a golden brown finish. Serve warm.
If you like this seafood dish, there are more recipes to delight your palate in our new and expanded edition of Culinary Clues around the World 2.0. Order it today in paperback or eBook format from Amazon.net.