On Christmas Eve many Italian-American families preserve the Southern Italian tradition of having no meat, and only fish for dinner. This practice is often referred to as the "Feast of the Seven Fishes," or "The Vigil" (La Vigilia). This celebration is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. Every household has their favorite specialties that they make year after year, and in many houses even more than seven kinds of fish are eaten. I've made up to twelve different types of fish and shellfish dishes in years past, when my entire extended family would gather around our table on Christmas Eve.
A special appetizer treat is a Mixed Seafood Salad or "Insalata di Frutte di Mare." Although I grew up in a Irish and Ukrainian household, and the thought of eating calamari was unheard of to me before I married my Italian husband, this salad soon become one of my personal favorites! I would be very content to have a large portion of this as my main course, but I usually serve it in smaller portions as an appetizer.
Mixed Seafood Salad
Serves 4 - 6 people as an appetizer.
2 pounds fresh or thawed frozen squid (calamari), cleaned and cut into 3/4 inch. rings, leave tentacles whole.
I pound medium size shrimp, peeled and de-veined.
1 pound mussels
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 small jar (8 oz) of roasted red peppers, drained and diced
1 cup green and/or black Italian olives, drained
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
I small bunch flat leaf parsley, thick stems removed, chopped
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1. Scrub mussels with a stiff brush under cold running water. Remove any fibrous beards from mussels. Throw away any mussels with open shells.
2. Put 1 tablespoon of water to just cover the bottom of a 4 quart saucepan and add cleaned mussels. Cover and cook over high heat with cover on the pot until mussels open, around 1 to two minutes. Pick out and throw away any mussels that fail to open. Transfer mussels to a clean bowl and let cool.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Set a bowl of ice water nearby. Boil shrimp just until pink, about 2 minutes. Using a strainer, transfer to ice water to stop cooking and then place the drained shrimp into a large bowl.
4. Add squid to boiling water. Once pot has returned to boil, cook squid until tentacles curl back and rings are opaque, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Drain well, pat dry with paper towels, and add to the bowl of shrimp.
5. Strain liquid off the mussels and add to the bowl of squid and shrimp.
6. Add chopped onion, celery, and olives to the bowl
7. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, 1/2 cup lemon juice, the garlic, and parsley. Whisk in 1 teaspoon salt, or less to taste, and several grinds of black pepper.
8. Pour dressing over seafood and stir gently. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let salad marinate in the refrigerator a few hours or overnight.
9. Bring salad to room temperature and stir gently before serving. Serve with additional lemon slices.
If you wish you can add steamed clams, cooked and sliced scungilli (conch), boiled chopped octopus, lobster, or cooked scallops to this salad, adjusting the amount of oil and seasonings for larger quantities of seafood. If available, a small portion of chopped arugula is also a flavorful addition to the salad.
It's also nice to share our food customs and favorite recipes through the "Foodie Friday" event each week on Michael's blog "Designs By Gollum." Please join us all on her link!