Italian Seafood Stew

Christmas, Featured Article, Holidays
on December 16, 2011

My neighbor Teresa, who I adore, is a good Italian-American from New Jersey. Last year she invited me for Christmas Eve to celebrate the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes or Festa dei Sette Pesci. Believed to have originated in Southern Italy, this celebration is a commemoration of Vigilia di Natale, the wait for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
Today, the meal typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. This year, when I join Teresa’s family for the feast, I’ll bring my own version of Italian Fisherman’s Stew, also known as cioppino. Here’s a classic version, plus my own recipe, inspired from a dish I savored in Sicily a couple years ago—I incorporated a bit of orange, which adds a fragrant and subtle note of flavor.

Fun Fact: No one quite knows the relevance of the number seven to the feast. In fact, many families celebrate with 10 dishes (for the stations of the cross) or 13 (for the Apostles plus Jesus).