Friday, December 23, 2011

Timeless Traditions

I've said it before but it bears repeating, I'm a big believer in the importance of traditions.  I think that they bind a family together and strengthen the bonds between family members.  I was blessed to grow up in a family that valued tradition and was committed to making tradition a part of our family.  Our family had a lot of traditions and most of them centered around food.  One of my most favorite traditions happened every Christmas Eve when the whole family gathered at my grandparent's house.  My grandmother would prepare a feast of seven fishes that was unlike any other meal that we ate during the year.  When I was young, I had no idea why we ate fish on Christmas Even but it truly was a spectacular feast.  I found this quick explanation of the Feast of Seven Fishes on Simply Recipes.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Feast of the Seven Fishes
Ever heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes? Hank explains:
Growing up in New Jersey among so many Italians, I thought every Italian family celebrated Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a tidal wave of seafood dishes each featuring a different fish or shellfish. But as I grew up and met more Italians from other parts of the Old Country, I learned that the Feast is a very Southern Italian tradition. Regional or no, I love the idea of feasting on the ocean's bounty as a warm up to the heavy roasts of Christmas Day.
Every family has its own menu, but there are a few dishes that almost always appear: Smoked eel was a big one when I lived on Long Island, as was stewed or fried baccala, salt cod. Calamari or octopus was a constant, and crab or lobster was common as well. Some families served huge piles of fried smelt, others pasta with anchovies. West Coast Italians served up cioppino, a seafood stew that can often have seven fishes in one bowl.
Why seven? No one really knows. Some say it is for the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, others say it symbolizes the church's Seven Virtues: faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude and justice.

After Ben and I got married, we left our families in Ohio and moved to Texas.  Moving across the country within our first year of marriage was a huge adjustment.  (We were 24 years old and hopelessly in love.)  Like most young married couples, we struggled to merge the traditions from two families together and to create some of our own.  One tradition that we have never changed is the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. 

Some of my menu remains the same year after year - calamari, shrimp, and crab are staples.   I tend to change the rest of the fish menu based on what is available and fresh.   Don't get me wrong - working seven different kinds of fish into one meal is no easy task.  I have been known to pull out a can of tuna or a bottle of Cesar dressing with anchovy paste in a desperate attempt to reach the lucky number seven.

This year we are heading to the Dekalb Farmer's market in search of some fresh fish for our seven fishes feast.  I am really excited to see what the market has to offer.  I did however, make some Roasted Red Pepper Crab Soup to serve with my fish feast this year.  (That's one fish down - six to go.)

Roasted Red Pepper and Crab Soup
6 red bell peppers, halved and seeded            ½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 potato, peeled and cubed                             ½ teaspoon basil
32 ounces chicken broth                                 ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 quart ½ and ½                                              1 pound lump crabmeat
1 pint heavy cream                                         1 teaspoon salt

Place peppers on grill and cook until skins are blackened.

Place in paper bag for 5 minutes.

Peel and roughly chop.

Combine potato and broth in pan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until potatoes are tender.

Add peppers, ½ and ½, cream, salt, garlic, basil and cayenne.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.

 Puree mixture in batches in blender.

Add crab and heat through. 

Ladle into bowl just before serving.

Don't be fooled by the vegetables in this soup - it's not all that healthy.   It is really good though and worth every calorie.

Bon Appetit!

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