photo courtesy felt.co.nz
We are ALMOST to the end! Welcome back for Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style Day 23 (ventitre).
Everyone I know, including myself, was running around today shopping for all the ingredients they need to make the traditional Cenone della Vigilia or Christmas Eve dinner.
The word Cenone means big dinner in Italian, and is usually used when referring to the Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve feast. The Christmas Eve meal is also commonly called the Feast of Seven Fishes, because during this meal you would eat seven different types of fish or shellfish. They can be seven different courses, or seven fishes spread out over several courses, as seven different fishes are used during the meal.
The reason we eat seven different fishes or seven fish courses is because seven is the number that is repeated most often in the Bible. There is the Seven deadly sins, the seven sacrements, it took seven days for Joseph and Mary to reach Bethlehem, it took 7 days for the creation. I know you can think of even more examples of seven - the seven hills of Rome, seven wonders of the world. Essentially, the feast of seven fishes can refer to just about anything referencing seven and you are good to go.
Fish was traditionally eaten to purify the body and prepare for the big feast that is to come on Christmas Day. In Italy, the next few days are huge eating events. We have not only the Cenone on Christmas Eve, then there is another big meal on Christmas Day, followed by Santo Stefano Day on December 26 and even more eating.
The Rialto fish market was packed this morning as locals purchased all the fish and shellfish they would need for the coming days.While the dishes served may vary from region to region throughout Italy, eel , usually grilled or fried, is the one dish you will find in common whether you are in the North or way down South in the boot.
At the Rialto Fish Market
In the Venice area, most likely you will find Bacala (made from Salt Cod), Sarde and saor (fried sardines marinated in onions), clams, mussels, octopus salad, mixed fried fish, shrimp, and whole baked or grilled fish. For a pasta course, it will typically be spaghetti with vongole (clams).
Here's a sample of our Feast of Seven Fishes from last year. Tomorrow we're not going to have so many courses, it might have to be renamed the Feast of Three Fishes at our house!
Sardines ready to be breaded and fried
Spaghetti al Mare (mixed seafood)
Baby soft shelled crabs (moeche) at Rialto Market
Moeche, fried ready to eat
Topping off this enormous feast would be the favorite holiday sweet treats, panettone and pandoro.