Arancini with aioli

UPDATE: There is now a video recipe for Cioppino, the simple and easy seven-fish San Francisco stew: WATCH NOW

Italian-American families have their favorite dishes for Christmas Eve fish dinner – some serve 7 fish (for the 7 sacraments or 7 virtues), some serve 10 (for the 10 stations of the cross) and others 13 fish (for Jesus and the 12 apostles). I serve 7 fishes not for the religious symbolism but to draw family and friends to the table to enjoy a great 3-course fish meal and each other during the holiday season.

When I was growing up my family ate fish because it was a Catholic rule, no meat on Christmas Eve. We loved this meal so much we still cook it many years after the meat ban was dropped by the Church. It’s a big part of my holiday tradition. You can catch some of my excitement in the video we just released. I fried up some squid.

If you want to eat some fish on Christmas Eve or any day of the year check out some of my fish posts from the past year. Cook one dish or a bunch at the same time. You’ll be eating well in any case.

Let’s see if we can get to 7 fish dishes. Your first one is Calamari Fritti above.

Continuing the antipasto (before the meal) theme, how about some steamed mussels and clams with a hunk of garlic bread for dunking in the broth? (Like the calamari fritti eat these as soon as they’re done.)

Cod fish cakes anyone? If I was serving the cakes with other dishes in the antipasto I’d make the cakes much smaller, almost bite size. (You can make them ahead and warm them in the oven before serving.)

Maybe arancini (fried rice balls) stuffed with bay shrimp and served with a spicy aioli? (You can make them ahead and warm them in the oven before serving.)

Here’s one that you can put out in the antipasto course or use as a secondo piatto (second course) dish. I always have to have some sole on Christmas Eve.

For the primo piatto (first course) linguine in a spicy crab tomato sauce.

Here’s a great secondo piatto (second course), halibut baked with roasted cherry tomatoes, potatoes and green olives. I like to roast the whole fish, a branzino or sea bass, using this recipe. Just put the herb(s) inside the fish otherwise follow the original recipe. Debone the fish before serving.

That’s 7, but hey, it’s the holidays so here are a few more: fried shrimp, sword fish with salmoriglio sauce and  shrimp with oregano and garlic, simply roasted in a hot oven; and baccala salad below.

Check out my free vegetable eBook for some ideas of sides to serve with these fish dishes. Buon Natale!

Shrimp Roasted with Oregano and Garlic


  • 1 pound shrimp
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano. This is an important ingredient, use oregano from Italia.
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Peel and devein the shrimp.
  3. Cut the garlic in thin slices.
  4. Put the EVOO and garlic in a bowl.
  5. Add the shrimp, oregano and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Mix well so that the shrimp is well covered with the oil mixture.
  7. Put the shrimp in a baking dish leaving some room in between each.
  8. Drizzle the oil mixture over the shrimp.
  9. Pour the wine in the dish.
  10. Roast until the shrimp are translucent and tender, less than 15 minutes. Sometimes I will shorten the roasting time and finish cooking the shrimp under a the broiler to add a bit of crunch to the shrimp. Keep an eye on them so they do not overcook and get tough whether roasting or roasting/broiling.
  11. Put the shrimp on a serving dish and sprinkle the juices from the baking dish all over them.
  12. Sprinkle with chopped Italian parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
  13. Serve immediately.

Baccala Salad


  • 1/2 pound skinned and boneless baccala (dried salt cod)
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/4 cup flat Italian parsley leaves, loosely packed
  • 1/8 cup EVOO
  • 1 lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper (or for red pepper flakes if you like it more zesty) to taste
  • 10 Gaeta olives or your favorite (optional)
  • 1/8 cup capers (optional)

Cooking Directions

  1. You can find baccala at Italian markets, even at Whole Foods. 2 or 3 days before making the salad soak the dried salt cod a large bowl submerged in cold water. Change the water frequently, every 6 hours or so at the start, less frequently after the first day. You can keep the baccala submerged in water and covered in the refrigerator while you reconstitute it and remove most of the salt. The baccala will double in weight once reconstituted. (If needed, remove the skin and bones from the baccala. Sometimes you can find salt cod already reconstituted at the market.)
  2. Break of a small piece of baccala and cook it in boiling water for 10 minutes to make sure it is not too salty. If it is too salty keep soaking it changing the water every few hours.
  3. When most of the salt has been removed from the baccala poach it in boiling water until it just begins to flake, about 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook because the baccala will become tough.
  4. Drain the baccala and break or flake it into bite-size pieces. Put the baccala in a large bowl.
  5. Roughly chop the red onion and put it in the bowl.
  6. Tear or roughly chop the parsley and put in the bowl.
  7. Add the pepper, EVOO and the juice of one lemon. Be sure to use a really good finishing EVOO.
  8. (If you like you can scatter some well-rinsed capers or roughly chopped pitted olives over the salad before serving.)
  9. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
  10. Mix well and place the baccala on a serving dish garnished with lemon wedges.