Nonna Menna’s buttered bread with anchovies (photo courtesy Giulia Scarpaleggia).  We substitute pimiento for the capers (photo courtesy La Tienda).  You can use anchovy filets in olive oil or boquerones, marinated filets turned white by the vinegar (photo courtesy La Tienda).  Stirato is the closed Italian bread to the French baguette (photo courtesy Them Apples).
You don’t have to be of Italian descent to create the traditional Feast Of The Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.
We do it every year as a co-op event: Seven of us prepare the seven fish/seafood dishes, and the eighth makes dessert. (Note: With seven courses, the portions are smaller.)
If you’re having a “regular” Christmas Eve party, set out the Feast Of The Seven Fishes as a buffet.
We live near a good Italian bakery and can pick up stirato, the Italian bread closest to a baguette; but you can bake it yourself.
Or buy baguettes!
It’s a splendid feast, with opera playing in the background (or Christmas carols or Il Volo, if you prefer).
For menu suggestions and a backgrounder on the holiday, check out our:
2009 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
2010 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
2014 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
2015 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
RECIPE #1: OUR 2016 APPETIZER
As we sit around the sofa with bottles of wine, warming up for the main meal, we’re having a bread and butter with anchovies, inspired by the Tuscan grandmother of food writer Giulia Scarpaleggia. Nonna Menna added capers as well.
“Just use quality ingredients,” says Giulia, “because there are no tricks nor deceits!” You can even…
HAVE A TASTING, COMPARING THE DIFFERENT BRANDS
Butter. Our go-to butters are from Cabot’s and Vermont Creamery, but we’ll add Kerrygold, Organic Valley and Plugrá. If we had more capacity, we’d test Breakstone and Land o’ Lakes as well.
Anchovies. We are happy with Cento, an inexpensive brand available at supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and elsewhere. We can also find Ortiz and Roland in our neighborhood, and are ordering some fancy brands online. (There are no fresh anchovies in our markets now.)
Capers. Instead of Nonna’s capers, we’re using pimiento, a wonderful pairing with anchovies, with a garnish of chopped parsley. If we have time, we’ll add some lemon zest and garlic, or gremolata.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
The recipe is a no-brainer, but here’s how we’re serving it:
Place all the ingredients on the table and let people butter and top their own.
A basket of sliced plain striate and a basket of toasted slices (substitute baguette for stirato).
Unsalted butter, softened in ramekins, served blind with butter spreaders. A number written on each ramekin with a china marker, and revealed at the end of the course.
Anchovies in oil, drained and piled into shallow bowls or small plates, with appetizer/cocktail forks for serving.
Pimiento (sweet red pepper) strips.
Fresh minced parsley, in a ramekin with an espresso spoon (because what’s a fish course without fresh herbs).
Ingredients & Preparation
Replace the anchovies butter or sardine butter, a compound butter you can throw together.
Mash 1 cup of softened, unsalted butter with 1/2 cup mashed anchovies or sardines.
You can substitute anchovy paste, but it’s typically made with the cheapest anchovies, and very salty.