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Seven Fishes for Seven Dishes.

Byline: Jim Boyd The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Would you be surprised to find a Sicilian Christmas Eve tradition being used to celebrate April birthdays here?

Don't be.

Janet and Richard Reed chose the Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as La Vigilia, as the theme for a recent Sunday get-together where they marked Richard's birthday and the birthdays of three friends.

The Sicilian custom (which has spread throughout Italy) of serving a seven-fish dinner on Christmas Eve arises from the Catholic custom of fasting during the vigil before the Midnight Mass. Only fish, not meat, can be consumed.

Some say the number seven comes from the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, penance, Holy Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and the sacrament of the sick. But other explanations for this lucky number abound.

For Janet Reed, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which an Italian-American friend described as having connotations of prosperity and good luck, seemed to fit with the celebration of another year of life - another birthday.

She had used the theme once before, on New Year's Eve.

"It was really fun to do it," Reed said. "I really enjoyed researching fish recipes and presenting seven fish."

Reed spent two days cooking for the birthday party - longer, actually, if you count the preparation of the gravlax (salmon cured with sugar, salt and dill), which went into the refrigerator five days in advance.

She was able to join her guests without any last-minute fuss in the kitchen, however, because all seven of the fish dishes and the two side dishes were prepared in advance and served at room temperature.

She presented her version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes in two courses, a buffet of appetizers that was followed in leisurely fashion by a buffet of entrees.

The appetizer buffet featured Adriatic Grilled Shrimp, Gravlax, Brandade de Morue (a puree of salt cod) and a Marmalade of Spring Greens.

The buffet for the main meal offered Peshe kon Nuez (Salonikan Fish With Walnut Sauce), Poisson en Escabeche (Pickled Fried Fish), Tomato-Topped Fish Fillets, a salad of Tuna and White Beans With Bitter Greens, and a Banana Lentil Salad.

The last item follows another Italian tradition: Eating lentils on New Year's Eve is designed to ensure prosperity during the coming year.

"I think the hardest part was just the chopping," Reed said. "Chopping parsley. Chopping oodles of garlic. I like a lot of garlic. Chopping the red onions and the white onions ... I can walk miles and miles and not get nearly as tired as when I stand in one place and just chop."

The Reeds joked that they are so into food that they walk in marathons to burn off calories. She is a former schoolteacher and he is the author of two nonfiction books.

The couple host potlucks where friends come to read poetry. They also are members of the Movie Munch Club, a group of about 14 people that meets once a month to watch a movie video and to eat potluck dishes matching the movie theme.

Sometimes the food is straightforward: Australian cuisine for a movie with an Australian theme, for example.

Other times, the dishes are presented tongue in cheek.

For the movie "Seven Days in May," one of the members brought Salmon Glazed in Mayo, Reed recalled. "And somebody brought a corn bread into which she had inserted some fruits. It was Seven Dates in Maize."

Reed collected her recipes for the Feast of Seven Fishes from a variety of sources. However, you don't have to cook her full feast. Look through the recipes for ideas for a luncheon, a supper or hors d'oeuvres to fit your own needs.

Adriatic Grilled Shrimp

(Gamberetti dell'Adriatico)

This recipe is from Lynne Rossetto Kasper's "The Italian Country Table."

1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp (8 to 10 per pound), shelled and deveined, with tails left intact

2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste

4 cups ice water

3 to 4 sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), plumped 10 minutes in hot water and drained

3 large cloves garlic

3 tightly packed tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves

1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Ground black pepper

1 large lemon, cut into 8 wedges

In a bowl, combine the shrimp with the 2 tablespoons salt and the ice water. Refrigerate 20 minutes, but no more. Meanwhile, mince together the tomatoes, garlic and parsley. Turn into a medium bowl and stir in the hot pepper and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Drain, rinse and pat the shrimp dry. Toss them with the tomato mixture. Keep cold.

Film a large skillet or griddle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat over medium heat. Saute the shrimp, sprinkling with salt and pepper, about 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until pink and just firm. Pile all the seasonings atop the shrimp after you turn them.

Turn the shrimp onto a serving plate, along with the seasonings. Serve hot or warm, with the lemon wedges. Squeeze a little lemon over the shrimp just before eating.

Serves 4 or 5.

Note: Reed adapted this recipe by adding "a tiny bit more" hot red pepper flakes and by serving the dish at room temperature.

Tomato-Topped Fish Fillets

Reed says this recipe seems misnamed because the fish cooks on a bed of tomatoes rather than being topped with them. Reed got the recipe from one of the D'Agostino Supermarkets in New York City. It's an official "5 a Day" recipe from the Florida Tomato Committee.

2 large fresh tomatoes (about 1 pound)

3 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided

1 1/2 pounds flounder, sole or perch fillets

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons seasoned dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use tomatoes held at room temperature until fully ripe. Core tomatoes; cut into 1-inch slices; set aside.

Brush 1 teaspoon oil over the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer in dish, overlapping slightly. Fold fish fillets in half crosswise; place on tomatoes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and black pepper.

Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle on fish. Bake, uncovered, until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: In her version, Reed used halibut, 6 medium tomatoes and greater amounts of bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. She drizzled extra olive oil on the bed of tomatoes and sprinkled the Parmesan on top of the fish when it had only 2 or 3 minutes left to cook.

Peshe kon Nuez

(Salonikan Fish With Walnut Sauce)

This recipe is from "The Book of Jewish Food" by Claudia Roden. "The walnut sauce is in the style of the one used in the famous Turkish Circassian chicken," Roden says in the headnote.

2 pounds white-fish fillets

Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon or 4 tablespoons vinegar

Salt and pepper

1 slice white bread, crust removed

1 cup walnuts

3 or 4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leafed parsley

Put the fish in a pan with just enough water to barely cover along with the lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and let it barely tremble for 7 to 10 minutes, until the flesh just begins to flake when you pierce it with the point of a knife. Lift the fish and place it on a serving dish, leaving the cooking water in the pan.

For the sauce: Soak the bread in the cooking water, then blend it in a food processor with the walnuts, garlic, oil, flat-leafed parsley and enough of the cooking water to make a thick cream. Pour over the fish and serve cold.

Serves 4.

Note: Reed modified this recipe in several ways. She used 1 1/2 slices bread, slightly more walnuts, more garlic, 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil, and more parsley. She garnished the dish with chopped red bell pepper and sprigs of cilantro.

Poisson en Escabeche

(Pickled Fried Fish)

This recipe also is from Roden's "The Book of Jewish Food." Roden adapted it from Violetta Autumn's "A Russian Jew Cooks in Peru." "It does not have as much vinegar as the escabeches made to keep several days, but it should be prepared several hours in advance, or the day before, so that the fish has time to absorb the marinade," Roden says in the headnote.

2 pounds fish fillet, cut in pieces (use any firm white fish)

Salt

A bland-tasting olive oil for shallow-frying

3 small onions, cut in half, then sliced

1 chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1/3 cup white-wine vinegar

Lightly salt the fish, then shallow-fry quickly in not-too-hot oil, turning over once, until it is slightly golden and the flesh begins to flake when you cut into it.

Drain on paper towels and arrange on a serving dish.

Fry the onions with the chili pepper in 4 tablespoons of oil until the onions are very soft. Add the vinegar, simmer for 5 minutes, then pour over the fish. Refrigerate, covered, and serve cold. Autumn garnishes this dish with olives and sliced hard-boiled eggs.

Variations:

Fry 6 sliced garlic cloves with the onions; add 1 teaspoon paprika; and pour in 1/2 cup white-wine vinegar and 1/2 cup dry white wine. Pour over the fish arranged on a serving dish with a thinly sliced lemon. Serve with chopped flat-leafed parsley.

For Algerian sardines en escabeche, fry 2 pounds sardines with plenty of sliced garlic and marinate in a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil with 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or chili powder, and salt. (Roden found the flavors in this second variation "a bit too powerful" for her taste.)

Note: Reed combined many of the elements of the two variations for her version of escabeche. She also dusted the pieces of fish with flour before frying them. She fried the onions with both chili pepper and garlic, then added white-wine vinegar, paprika, cumin, cayenne and salt. She garnished the dish with a mixture of chopped cilantro and flat-leaf parsley, sprigs of cilantro, and lemon wedges to squeeze on the fish.

Gravlax

"Any angler who has fished in Scandinavia is familiar with this raw, salt-and-sugar-cured salmon which is featured in so many country inns, A.J. McCane says in "The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery." In the introduction to this recipe, he says, "Some recipes require equal parts of salt and sugar, or more salt than sugar, but I believe the ratio given produces an ideal cure with only the faintest suggestion of a sweet flavor. It's really important to have really pungent dill, which you chop to release its full aroma."

2 pounds centercut fresh Atlantic, sockeye, coho or chinook salmon

1/4 cup salt

1/2 cup sugar

1 bunch fresh dill, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons crushed white peppercorns (Reed uses finely ground white pepper)

Scale and debone the salmon, cutting the fish into 2 pieces along the line of the backbone. Do not rinse the pieces but wipe dry with paper towels.

Mix salt and sugar and rub the fish with the mixture. Sprinkle part of the mixture and some of the dill in a deep enamelware or earthenware baking dish.

Place 1 piece of salmon, skin side down, in the dish and sprinkle generously with dill, crushed peppercorns and salt-sugar mixture. Cover with the second piece of salmon, skin side up. If the pieces do not match in shape, place the thick side against the thin side.

Sprinkle the salmon with remaining salt-sugar mixture. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and a light weight such as a chopping board. The fish will "leach out" in about 4 to 5 hours, and the fluid should be poured off. Keep the gravlax refrigerated for at least 48 hours, turning the fish over at least twice during that period.

It can be stored for a week; if properly chilled, it should keep for 2 weeks.

To serve, cut into slices free from the skin. Saute the skin in butter in a hot skillet, roll it up and use as a garnish for the salmon in addition to sliced cucumbers, dill and lemon wedges.

Serve with gravlax sauce (recipe follows).

Gravlax Sauce

3 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/3 teaspoon salt

Pinch white pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons prepared mustard

2 to 3 tablespoons minced dill

Blend together all ingredients except dill. Add the dill, or serve it from a separate bowl.

Tuna and White Beans

With Bitter Greens

Janet Reed clipped this recipe from The Register-Guard; however, the author's name has been lost.

1 bunch arugula

1 small head curly endive (8 to 10 ounces)

1 head radicchio (about 6 ounces)

2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini or other white beans

1/4 cup red onion or sweet onion such as Vidalia

8 sprigs parsley, preferably flat-leaf

1/4 cup capers, drained

2 cans (6 ounces each) albacore tuna packed in water

1 1/2 lemons

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Fill the sink with cold water while you remove any withered or yellowed leaves from the greens.

Cut the arugula crosswise into 3/4 -inch-wide strips, discarding the stems. Cut the endive crosswise into 3/4 -inch-wide strips, discarding the bottom 1 inch. Cut off and discard the bottom 1/2 inch from the radicchio. Halve the remainder lengthwise and, with the flat side down, cut each half lengthwise into 1/2 -inch-wide strips.

Wash the salad greens briefly but vigorously in the sink to remove grit. Spin dry in a salad spinner. Remove any excess moisture with paper towels.

While the greens dry, open the cans of beans into a colander. Rinse and let drain.

Cut off a thin slice from the top and bottom of the onion, halve lengthwise, peel each half, and cut crosswise into thin, half-moon slices. Chop the parsley leaves.

Put the beans, onion, parsley and capers in a large mixing bowl along with salad greens.

Open the cans of tuna into the colander over a small bowl to catch the drained liquid. Flake the tuna and add to the mixing bowl.

Juice the lemons. Add the lemon juice to the drained tuna liquid along with the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and pour over the ingredients in the salad bowl. Toss well and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Brandade de Morue

This appetizer is from "Mediterranean: Food of the Sun," a cookbook by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow. "Salt cod is popular in Spain and France and it can be found cooked in a number of ways," the recipe headnote says. "This recipe is a puree, flavored with garlic and olive oil, which is made all over southern France."

1 1/2 pounds salt cod

1 1/4 cups olive oil

1 cup milk

1 garlic clove, crushed

Grated nutmeg

Lemon juice, to taste

White pepper

For the croutes:

1/4 cup olive oil

Slices of white bread, crusts removed

1 garlic clove, halved

Parsley sprigs to garnish

Soak the salt cod in cold water for at least 24 hours, changing the water several times. Drain.

Put the cod in a large pan, with enough cold water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes, until just tender. Drain and cool.

Flake the fish and discard any skin and bone.

Heat the 1 1/4 cups oil in a pan until very hot. In a separate pan, scald the milk. Transfer the fish to a blender or food processor and, with the motor running, slowly pour in the hot oil, followed by the milk, until the mixture is smooth and stiff.

Transfer to a bowl and beat in the crushed garlic. Season with nutmeg, lemon juice and white pepper. Leave the brandade to cool and then chill until almost ready to serve.

To make the croutes, heat the 1/4 cup oil in a frying pan. Cut the bread slices in half diagonally and fry in the oil until golden. Drain on kitchen paper, then rub on both sides with garlic.

Spoon the brandade into a shallow serving bowl and surround with the croutes. Garnish with parsley and serve cold.

Note: Reed served her Brandade de Morue on thin, toasted slices of baguette. She also added extra garlic to the cod puree.

Banana Lentil Salad

Both the author's name and the magazine that published it have been lost. The headnote on the recipe says, "This classic salad comes from the Spanish Canary Islands, where it is often served with rabbit."

1 cup brown lentils

1 cup yellow or red lentils

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

3 semiripe bananas, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils in a large bowl, cover with plenty of water and soak overnight.

The next day, drain off the water, rinse the lentils and transfer to a saucepan. Add fresh water to cover by at least an inch.

Bring the lentils to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, drain, and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool.

In a saute pan or skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and saute over medium heat until tender, about 2 minutes.

Add the onion mixture to the cooled lentils and stir in the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Let the salad chill 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Jim Boyd can be reached at 338-2363 or jboyd@guardnet.com.

CAPTION(S):

Janet Reed sets the table at her Springfield home in preparation for her Feast of the Seven Fishes buffet dinner. Reed prepared the traditional Italian Christmas meal to mark the April birthdays of her husband, Richard, and several friends. Fish: All that chopping did get tiresome Continued from Page E1 Birthday feast is patterned after Sicilian Christmas tradition Please turn to FISH, Page E4 Poisson en Escabeche gets a final garnish of parsley and cilantro. FISHES FOR DISHES SEVEN
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:May 14, 2003
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