Handmade Pasta for the Feast of the Seven Fishes
The Feast of the Seven Fishes, or Festa dei Sette Pesci, is a traditional Christmas Eve celebration in southern Italy in which seven different seafood dishes are served. The custom has been practiced as a memorial to waiting for the midnight birth of Jesus, originating from the Roman Catholic convention of abstinence from meat or fish products on the night before holy days.
The traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes has been popularized amongst diverse groups of celebrators in the United States due to its culinary and traditional appeal. A typical menu at the Festa dei Sette Pesci might include broccoli rabe, roasted eel, baccala (salted cod), steamed mussels and clams, deep fried scallops, octopus or scungili (conch) salad, and a variety of desserts like cannoli and cassata.
Although a long process depending on serving size, homemade pasta is often a fundamental and delicious base to the feast. This recipe was passed down to each generation in my family originating from my Sicilian great-grandmother. The instructions have never before been written, so we learned through experience. Traditionally the youngsters of the family would watch the pasta being made until they were old enough to help. Once the recipe and methods were committed to memory, that meant you were ready to prepare the pasta on your own. Next to celebrating with family, observing and helping with the preparations for the Feast of the Seven Fishes have always been one of the most exciting parts of Christmas Eve.
According to my great-grandmother’s recipe, you simply adjust the amount of ingredients to serve how many people you are cooking for: one egg per person, roughly 3/4 cup of flour per person, and 1/8 teaspoon of salt and pepper each per person.
Mix together flour, salt, and pepper on a large cutting board or directly on the table surface as tradition dictates.
Collecting your fingers together so that your hand looks like a cone, create a well in the center of the flour then slowly widen the well using your hand in a circular motion.
Add the eggs to the center of the well, whisking them with a fork.
Gradually combine the flour from the sides of the well into the eggs. This must be done slowly and carefully so as not to break the well. Continue adding the flour until a soft dough is formed which may or not include the entire flour well.
Knead the dough while adding olive oil until the dough becomes firm and can be formed into a smooth ball.
Place the dough into a mixing bowl covered with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour.
Cut off half of a fistful of dough and sprinkle with flour to prevent sticking. Be sure to keep the dough that is not being used sprinkled with flour and covered.
Roll the dough out into a long smooth strip around 12 inches. The strip can then be rolled gently from long end to long end forming a fat silver dollar, and cut with a knife to noodle width desired, then opened to separate the noodles.
The dough may also flattened into a disc-shape then fed 2-3 times while using progressively thinner settings through a rolling machine. The rolled dough of 12 inches can then be fed through a pasta machine. The process is repeated until all the dough is used.
The cut pasta may be left to dry until brittle on pasta racks or flat on pieces of paper towel. The pasta may also be cooked immediately.
Next, bring water to a boil (a gentle boil if cooking the pasta fresh), cook, and enjoy!
Do you celebrate Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes? What dishes are on your menu?
Photo Credit: Gabriella DiGiovanni
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