Friday, December 06, 2013

Feast of the Seven Fishes - Maria K. Alexander

Feast of the Seven Fishes – My Italian Tradition
Maria K. Alexander

Having grown up in an Italian household, food has always been an important part of family gatherings. We’d started eating in the early afternoon and continue well into the evening. And that was on a weekly basis, not just holidays!

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house. We celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as Vigilia di Natale, or Vigil of the Nativity. The significance of the seven fish represents the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church (Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick). A typical celebration would start with the fish in the early afternoon and then hours later we'd have pasta, followed by dessert.

For the kids in the family, the significance of the evening didn't extend beyond eating and getting presents. I remember my grandmother wearing a housecoat while breading and frying fish. The kitchen was full of women moving around in organized chaos preparing what would be a fabulous meal. As a child, I wasn’t the greatest of eaters. Saying I was horrible is probably an understatement. Thankfully my tastes have improved over the years, although I still don’t like broccoli rabe or savoy cabbage (what my family calls “veds”). Sorry, Mom.

Unfortunately times have changed and most people have to work a full day on Christmas Eve. Today, we cram what used to be a leisurely smorgasbord of food that spanned a half day into a few hours. While the fish may slightly vary each year, usually we have: crab cakes (my personal favorite), shrimp (cocktail & fried), flounder, scallops (fried and broiled), calamari, clams or mussels, tuna (or crab, if I’m lucky) sauce for the pasta. In addition to the main course, we'll have an antipasto, salad, plus various veggies like stuffed peppers and broccoli rabe. And let’s not forget dessert. Christmas cookies, fried bows, pizzelles, and biscotti are some of what grace the dessert table.

As an adult, while the food is still important, it also means spending time with family I don't see as much as I'd like to. While the number of family members has dwindled over the years, we continue to gather together to celebrate this wonderful tradition and love that will bond us forever.

My wish for you this holiday season is to remember your loved ones—present and past. Life is busy and the craziness of our schedules makes it sometimes a challenge to sit and appreciate being together with family. This year, may you stop and capture a moment in time and cherish it in your mind and heart forever.

In honor of this special tradition in my family, I’ll share my grandmother’s recipe for crab cakes.

Buon Appetito!

Elvira’s Crab Cakes


White Sauce
½ stick margarine
3 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
Salt & pepper to taste

1 pound lump crabmeat (fresh or canned)
8 slices bread (crust removed & cubed)
1 small onion, diced (or ½ large onion)
1 egg slightly beaten
Salt & Pepper
Italian Flavored Panko or Breadcrumbs


White Sauce
1. Melt margarine in a small pot.
2. Add 3 tbsp flour slowly, stirring to keep smooth.
3. Add salt & pepper and 1 cup of milk. (I’ve substituted ¾ cup soy milk & ¼ water for anyone who has a milk allergy)
4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Cook until thick and bubbles slowly.

1. Place crab meat in colander and rinse. Remove any visible pieces of shell.
2. Place drained crab meat in bowl. Add bread cubes, salt & pepper, onion, oregano, and egg. Mix well.
3. Add white sauce and mix.
4. Refrigerate 1 hour.
5. Form oval patties (wet hands slightly with water to help shape) and roll in Italian Flavored Panko (or Italian breadcrumbs) until fully coated.
6. Deep fry.

To celebrate the holiday and debut of my contemporary romance, UNTANGLE MY HEART, where my characters share more about Italian holiday traditions, please stop by the “Contest” page of my website ( for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo. May you have a joyous and Christmas and New Year! a Rafflecopter giveaway


Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Love getting new recipes! Thanks for sharing. :)

RoseAnn DeFranco said...

Thank you for sharing in such great detail the significance of the seven fishes and your family's approach. I've never made a crab cake before so thank you for sharing the recipe. I might try these this Christmas Eve. Our traditions have changed over the years and I would like to get back to the seven fishes!

Emma Kaye said...

Yum. I want to go to your place for Christmas Eve. Thanks for sharing.

Maria K. Alexander said...

Glad you liked the recipe. It's a revolving door on Christmas Eve.

Michele Mannon said...

Maria, the crab cakes sound and look terrific. I know that your book has such an authentic Italian feel, and it's easy to understand why!!!

I'll be over for dinner soon! Cheers, Michele

Jaye Marie Rome said...

My father was Italian and my mother was French and German. Mom wasn't much of a fish eater, so I had never celebrated the Feadt of the Seven Fishes while growing up. My parents divorced when I was 25, and my dad later Italian woman. That was when I fisrt celebrated the Feast. I'm not much of a fish eater either, but I did enjoy that one night a year. Thanks for sharing that tradition, Maria!

Maria K. Alexander said...

Thanks, Michele and Jaye. I'm glad the authentic Italian came out in my book. Writing it was a joy. Thanks for stopping by.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Maria,

I love your description of the kitchen. Women moving in organized chaos. That pretty much sums up all of our family events as well. What fun!

Anonymous said...

What a fun flavor of family. I'll try your recipe, it sounds great.

Maria K. Alexander said...

Thanks for stopping by Debra and DeNise. The chaos is intimidating if you're not used to it. I remember my husband's reaction when people he didn't know hugged and kissed him the first time he met them. Enjoy the recipe!

Jenna Blue said...

Maria, you are the first Italian who's been able to explain the significance of the seven fishes to me! Soooo happy to have some insight since we celebrate this way (on a smaller scale these days) but aren't really italian! Long story...