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The first time the Arlington, Va., resident hosted the dinner about a decade ago, her son was an infant. Mary Louise Gerlach, also of Arlington, says she is fed up with the labor required to pull off a Seven Fishes dinner—cleaning and prepping the fish, cooking and serving it all.Her menu was decidedly non-traditional and included Pepperidge Farm goldfish, Swedish fish, fish sticks, lox, a can of tuna and Dogfish Head beer. “I’m making beef tenderloin,” she says about this year.In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, put pureed or mashed tomatoes.Add garlic, 1 tablespoon parsley, salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil.In some cities, including Chicago, Hartford, New York and Philadelphia these events are so numerous that food websites now post roundups of which restaurants are participating. But cookbook author Amy Riolo, who writes about food and culture and whose family hails from Calabria, says it’s possible that the tradition predates Christianity and is rooted more in celebration than in abstinence.Dean Gold started serving a “Feast of the No Less Than Seven Fish” at Dino, his Washington, D. “Fish was a celebratory food in ancient Egypt,” says Riolo, who writes the blog Dining with Diplomats. The river flooded naturally twice a year and provided them with a bounty of fish.He decided he liked the tradition and incorporated it into his own Christmas Eve dinners.
To us it was either No matter what you call it though, this seafood extravaganza is becoming more popular, and not just in the homes of people of Italian persuasion. “Christmas Eve is one of our busiest nights.” The dinner attracts not only extended Italian-American families, but also many of Dino’s regular clientele as well as younger food enthusiasts.The Feast of the Seven Fishes—the elaborate seven-course fish dinner that many families of Italian descent serve on Christmas Eve—falls into the latter category.“I never heard it called that,” she said when I asked her about it recently. That is not to say Italians don’t eat seafood on Christmas Eve. So did we at our home in New Jersey—pasta with tuna-tomato sauce, braised calamari, shrimp, skate wings, eel (both roasted and sautéed) and more.We’ll still probably need to pull open a tin of smoked oysters or sardines to reach that magic number seven. No matter what else changes on our Christmas Eve menu, the meal always begins with a bowl of pasta with this savory sauce, rich with chunks of tuna and punched up with anchovies and capers. Substitute angel hair pasta (capellini) if you can’t find fedelini.Fedelini are thin noodles that are slightly thicker than angel hair pasta. This recipe is adapted from my book "The Glorious Pasta of Italy" (Chronicle Books, 2011).