The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Festa dei Sette Pesci), or La Viglia di Natale (Vigil of the Nativity), is an Italian-American tradition, originating in southern Italy, of eating seven courses consisting mostly of meatless, fish (and shellfish) dishes on Christmas Eve prior to midnight mass. While the significance of the number seven is still largely debated—some say it represents the days of the week, the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome, or the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, while others believe it represents the seven sacraments—the theme of the celebration remains the same: fish! And lots of it. The feast is typically served in courses—from light to heavy and then dessert—and includes such dishes as fried calamari, shrimp scampi, pasta with clam sauce or mussels, and salted cod, as well as an assortment of pastas, vegetables, and baked goods—cannolis and Italian cookies—and of course, wine!
But the tradition is more than just about the seven fishes. “It’s about family and getting together,” says Steve DiFillippo, chef and owner of Davio’s, which has four locations in Massachusetts including one in Lynnfield. All the restaurant’s locations will feature a special Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve—a tradition that dates back to 1985. “I was 25 and that was the first time I wasn’t going to be home on Christmas Eve,” says DiFillippo, who has been partaking in the tradition with his family for as long as he can remember. “So I said, ‘We’re working, we’re going to do a Feast of the Seven Fishes menu.’” “No other restaurant was doing it at the time,” DiFillippo adds. “It was a big hit and after a few years, it really took off. It’s a great value and it’s become a tradition.”
Although DiFillippo is less likely to be in the kitchen this Christmas Eve, the four Davio’s restaurant locations in Massachusetts will still feature a Feast of the Seven Fishes-themed menu (as they’ve done for over 30 years). The menus won’t all be the same, however. “Each chef gets to do their own thing,” DiFillippo says. But the one dish that is always present on DiFillippo’s menu—pasta with clams, DiFillippo’s favorite. “You have to do pasta with clams,” he says. “The fish dishes vary from year to year but the pasta is always going to have clams.”
Photo by Brianna Moore
Davio’s Linguine with Clams
- 2 Tbs. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (a couple of generous drizzles)
- 2 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 c. White Wine
- 1 c. Clam Broth
- 1 ½ lb. Manilla Clams
- 2 large Razor Clams (out of the shell, chopped)
- 8 each Cherry Tomatoes (skinless)
- 1 each Lemon, juiced
- ¼ c. Parsley, chopped (a couple of handfuls)
- 1 tsp. Salt, course
- 4 Tbs. Butter, unsalted
Heat a large, skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and garlic (to golden brown). Add white wine, clam broth, Manilla clams, and razor clams. When clams open, toss with cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, and fresh parsley.
Reduce down to half, add the butter and let it melt for a few minutes to thicken the consistency.
Toss linguini and clam broth in the pan, and then season with a little coarse salt to your taste. Split into 2 bowls and serve.
Artisan lettuces, warm octopus, marble potatoes, olives, cherry tomatoes, sherry vinaigrette
Fritto Misto: Shrimp, scallops, oysters, calamari, lemon aioli
Piatto della Vigilia: Crab stuffed lemon sole, leeks, baby carrots, zucchini, roasted tomato butter
Pear crostata, vanilla bean gelato, chai spiced caramel, spun sugar
Below are three other restaurants in the Boston-are that are keeping this Italian-American tradition alive and serving their own versions of this fun fish-themed feast.
“As the son of Italian immigrants, I grew up celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes and it’s one of my most cherished childhood memories,” says Tuscan Brands founder Joe Faro. “It is not just a holiday celebration, it’s also a celebration of the artisan Italian food that is such a part of our heritage and our culture. From smelts to sea urchin to sweet rock shrimp to our tremendous lobster risotto, we are excited to share these special menu items and great Italian tradition with our guests.”
BACCALA MANTECATO ALLA VENEZIANA
Paired with Cantine Maschio Prosecco
CRISPY CALAMARI & SMELTS
Lemon Aioli, Calabrese Peppers
Paired with Sella & Mosca Vermentino
RICCI DEL MARE
Tuscan Market Linguini, Sea Urchin, Fresh Lemon Sweet Rock Shrimp
Paired with Castelvero Cortese
PAN SEARED BRANZINO
Saffron Lobster Risotto & Lemon Parsley Salad
Paired with Stemarri Pinot Noir
CHOCOLATE & HAZELNUT CANNOLI
Paired with Castello Banfi Rosa Regale
Salem: $55 for dinner, $85 with wine
Burlington: $55 for dinner, $85 with wine
Portsmouth: $55 for dinner, $85 with wine
Seaport: $75 for dinner, $105 with wine
Chef and owner Delio Susi and his team welcome guests to Sulmona for a family-inspired Feast of the Seven Fishes this holiday season.
Join the team at Sulmona Restaurant as they celebrate the holidays with a specialty Feast of the Seven Fishes menu, a nod to the traditional Italian-American Christmas Eve dinner. While the Feast of the Seven Fishes menu is traditionally enjoyed on Christmas Eve, chef Delio Susi is offering the special menu starting December 11 through Christmas Eve, during dinner service beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The fruits of the sea take center stage with the Feast of the Seven fishes but there is another ingredient on the menu that is a real showstopper—a very rare and exclusive extra virgin olive oil from chef Delio’s family vines in Sicily. This olive oil is 100% organic and unfiltered. While Delio predominantly uses this as a finishing oil, there are two menu items on the Feast of the Seven Fishes menu that showcase the unique flavors.
Chef Delio honors his uncle Guy’s love for sea urchin, a variety of fish not usually used in homestyle Italian cooking, with extra virgin imported olive oil in the uni dish with a simple and mouthwatering preparation of garlic, chilies, uni butter, and buccatini. The talented staff behind the Sulmona bar has also created the Zio—which means “uncle” in Italian and combines Colombian oregano, Italicus—an Italian root liqueur that is orange flavored, Aperol, fresh grapefruit juice, Noley’s gin, and the olive oil.
The full menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes is as follows:
Baccala Cakes, parsley, lemon, garlic aioli $15
Head on Shrimp, salt, pepper, Calabrian chilies, garlic $17
Grilled Octopus, spicy aioli, crispy smashed potatoes, parsley $15
Lobster Agnolotti, pink brandy cream, caramelized shallots $37
Puttanesca, baby octopus, squid ink risotto $29
Uni, oil, garlic, chilies, uni butter, buccatini $28
Cioppino, mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, haddock, shrimp, lump crab toast Market Price
Panettone Bread Pudding, Crème Anglaise $12
This Christmas Eve, chef Dante de Magistris is preparing an Italian-style Christmas Eve dinner featuring century–old family recipes. Each dish is crafted based on closely-guarded family recipes, which have been passed down by the chef’s nonna. The four-course meal is $70 per-person and is available from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are recommended, so be sure to reserve your spot early this year.
The full menu is as follows:
Grande Antipasto di Mare, (grilled shrimp cocktail, fried calamari, clam oreganata, octopus salad, baccalà fritter)
Capelli D’Angelo “Aglio e Olio”, (angel hair pasta, garlic, evoo, anchovy, capers, pine nuts, golden raisins)
Spigola, (grilled striped bass, mushroom broth, escarole, walnut stuffing, chive pesto)
Zeppole Dei Poveri, (Neapolitan fritters, orange pastry cream, gelato)