Count me in as another who thinks that October 5 is a little early but maybe that's why I always feel behind. And we were at a very large discount chain store today that isn't my favorite (but boy does it have cheap apple juice), and they did sneak in a Christmas carol on the music and one aisle of early Christmas decor next to the overwhelming Halloween selections. (Alas, no toddler giraffe costume like Son 1 wants. And me not being crafty, I'm a little anxiety ridden about this. But that's a different holiday.)
My mother was Italian, so we always had three fishes on Christmas Eve. I hear all the Italians out there saying, "What?!?! Three fishes?!?! You mean seven, right?" And the answer is, no, I mean three. My dad (Irish) was allergic to fish that swim, so we had three kinds of shellfish on Christmas Eve so that it didn't end at the hospital. If Mom felt particularly industrious, she'd pop some flounder in the microwave for just the two of us, or make some angels on horseback (scallops wrapped in bacon) or pop open a tin of oysters to put on Triscuits. Once my dad died, we went back to the full seven fishes and enjoyed honoring the tradition even as we tweaked it with things like tuna salad and sushi instead of baccala.
Fast forward to Son 1's first Christmas. We were thrilled when our church asked us if he could be Baby Jesus at the children's mass on Christmas Eve. Who says no to that?! It is one of our most magical memories of that first year of parenting, watching our behemoth 18-lb. 2-month-old squirming in the firm grip of one of the most placid 6th grade girls you've ever seen. The whole first pew was our family, three generations from both sides, there to enjoy the moment.
Since the church was 2 blocks from our house, we invited everyone to dinner after. We were blessed that my aunt, a Cordon-Bleu chef, poached a salmon for us, which was the clear culinary highlight of the evening. But in a pinch, Rachael Ray came through for me with a starter course that got most of my fish in to one dish and kept my kitchen ready to go for the visitors even with all the decorations up.
Without further ado, I give to you my/Rachael's recipe for cioppino, my way of sneaking five fish in to one dish, allowing the salmon to be the star of the show. (And, as a note, cod is often hard to find around here at that time of year; any flaky white fish works well--even the flounder Mom and I used to split.)
Cioppino: A Fine Kettle of Fish Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray
I am half Sicilian and so a large part of the family does "The Seven Fishes" on Christmas Eve. I do not have the patience to make seven dishes. I make this instead -- it uses 5 varieties of seafood, all in one pot. Now that's a happy holiday!
1/4 cup (3 turns around the pan in a slow stream) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 to 3 flat fillets of anchovies, drained
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup good quality dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) container chicken stock
1 (32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed (about 1 tablespoon)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 1/2 pounds cod, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
8 large shrimp, ask for deveined easy-peel or peel and devein
8 sea scallops
16 to 20 raw mussels, scrubbed
A loaf of fresh, crusty bread, for mopping
In a large pot over moderate heat combine oil, crushed pepper, anchovies, garlic, and bay. Let anchovies melt into oil. The anchovies act as a natural salt, the pepper flakes will infuse the oil, providing heat.
Chop celery and onion near stove and add to the pot as you work. Saute vegetables for a few minutes to begin to soften and add wine to the pot. Reduce wine a minute, then add chicken stock, tomatoes, thyme, and parsley. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to medium low.
Season fish chunks with salt and pepper. Add fish and simmer 5 minutes, giving the pot a shake now and then. Do not stir your soup with a spoon after the addition of fish or you will break it up. Add shrimp, scallops, and mussels and cover pot. Cook 10 minutes, giving the pot a good shake now and again.
Remove the lid and discard any mussels that do not open. Carefully ladle stew into shallow bowls and pass bread at the table.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 healthy servings
User Rating: five stars
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Want or need more holiday cooking ideas? Check out this great blog carnival hosted by Overwhelmed With Joy!