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Shellfish stew serves up a warm and festive Christmas Eve dinner

The holiday season is full of various traditions. One tradition that’s popular among Italian-Americans on Christmas Eve is called “Festa dei sette pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes).” When participating in this tradition, celebrants enjoy seven or more seafood dishes.

The origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes are unclear. Some theories suggest that the number seven represents the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church or the seven hills of Rome. This year, celebrants can incorporate this recipe for “Caldereta (Shellfish Stew)” from James Campbell Caruso’s España: Exploring the Flavors of Spain (Gibbs Smith) into their seven fishes tradition. (Note: Omit the prosciutto if you are abstaining from meat.)


Serves 6

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large cloves garlic
2 thick slices baguette
1 cup toasted almonds
½ cup chopped parsley

Heat oil in a skillet and fry the whole garlic cloves until brown in color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove garlic from the pan and set aside. Place the bread in the hot oil and toast on both sides. Combine the bread, garlic, almonds, and parsley in a food processor or use a mortar and pestle. Crush and set aside. This will be used to thicken the stew before serving.

½ cup Spanish olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 ounces prosciutto or jamón serrano cut into strips
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped (or use canned tomatoes)
Pinch of saffron threads
1 cup amontillado sherry
2½ cups fish stock
12 clams
12 mussels
6 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound cod
Salt and pepper

Heat oil and sauté onion, pepper, ham, and tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Add the saffron and sherry and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Add the fish stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to medium and add all the seafood. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes, or until clams and mussels open; discard any that fail to open. Stir in the thickener and taste to adjust seasonings.