DENVER — Christmas Eve is the night of seven fishes...or thirteen...or however many your family feels like counting! In Italian-American households like mine, deep fryers, giant pasta pots and lots and lots of garlic take part in a delicious dance that everyone enjoys year after year. Turns out, tradition tastes great!
Why seven fishes? Nobody knows, maybe they symbolize the seven sacraments. Why thirteen fishes? A mystery. My guess is that Italian-Americans usually prefer to do things a bit over the top; so the thought of a mere few fishes just doesn't cut it. Never did, never will.
So let's get Italian!
My father loved old world dishes such as roasted eel, scungilli (a mollusk), and bacalao (salted cod). My mother took the reins on those recipes for years, but we've unfortunately eliminated them from our Christmas Eve dinner for one reason or another...tastes change, it became too hard to get the fresh ingredients, and frankly the recipes took too much time to prepare. However, even though those dishes are gone, they're not forgotten, nor are the family memories they evoke!
This year I have a pretty nice menu rounded out that includes two crowd-pleasing must-haves- linguini and clams and calamari. These dishes are perfect for anyone who wants to fit some more Italian into their lives. Believe me when I tell you, these are easy and yummy. I encourage you to give them a try even when it's not a holiday celebration...any Wednesday night will due! Get the wine chilled and Buon Natale!
Linguini And Clams
1 lb. DeCecco brand Linguini (or other pasta that is a product of Italy--it will say on the package)
3 cans minced clams
1 bottle of clam juice
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (first cold pressed)
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper
Boil pasta in a large pot according to package directions- use an ample amount of water and salt the water generously.
While the pasta is cooking, make the clam sauce.
Generously cover the bottom of a medium sauce pan with olive oil. Heat over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté about 2-3 minutes until soft and fragrant. Do not brown garlic! Add half of the chopped parsley and cook about a minute, stirring a bit. Add clam juice and raise heat to medium high. Bring to a boil and let sauce boil and reduce a bit, about 5 minutes. Add in minced clams and the juices from the cans. Lower heat back to medium and watch the pot...you want to heat the clams through, but not bring sauce back to a boil--that will toughen the clams. Taste sauce, add a bit of salt and pepper, but not too much. You will be adding cheese later on, and that will add more salt to the dish.
Once the pasta is al dente or cooked to your liking, remove 1 cup of pasta water from the pot and add 1/2 cup of it it to your clam sauce. Drain pasta and pour into a large serving bowl.
Pour enough sauce over the pasta to generously well up around the sides. If you need more sauce, add in the reserved pasta water. Use a slotted spoon to pile the clams on top of pasta. Top with a heavy sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley. Serve with crusty bread. Serves 6.
1 lb. raw squid, clean tubes and/or tentacles (get at Whole Foods or at your local fish monger)
Whole milk or buttermilk
1 cup flour
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 gallon-sized Ziplock bag
Canola Oil for frying
Deep fryer or Medium sized pot
Fresh lemon wedges (about 3 lemons)
Rao's Bottled Marinara Sauce (or see Marinara recipe below)
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Prepare and marinate squid ahead of time. Here's how: Cut squid bodies (tubes) crosswise into 1 inch wide tubes. Place tubes and tentacles into a glass bowl cover with milk or buttermilk. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let squid marinate overnight or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
In the Ziplock bag, combine flour, panko bread crumbs, garlic salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and onion powder. Set aside until ready to fry squid.
Heat oil in deep fryer or at least 3 inches deep in a medium pot to 375 degrees.
Remove squid in small handfuls from milk marinate and place into flour mixture. Shake to coat. Gently shake off excess flour mixture and then drop into hot oil. Fry for only about 1 minute until just golden brown. Do not over fry. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel for a few seconds, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and grated parmesan while hot. Transfer to plate with marinara and lemon wedges. Serves 6-8
1 large can Cento brand whole peeled tomatoes with basil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper flakes (optional)
Place tomatoes and juices in a blender. Pulse for 3 seconds until tomatoes are smooth. Reserve. Lightly coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add garlic to saucepan and sauté about 2-3 minutes until soft and fragrant. Add in parsley, stir gently for about a minute. Stir in tomato paste and keep stirring until mixture looks deep red and has cooked about 2 minutes. Add blended tomatoes. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Tear up about 6 basil leaves and add to sauce. Bring to a low boil stirring occasionally and then turn down heat to medium-low. Let simmer for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste. Add a bit more salt if needed and red pepper flakes if desired. Serve immediately or cool and keep in refrigerator in a covered container for up to a week. Makes about 2 1/2 cups of marinara sauce.
Note: if you like a sweeter sauce, you can toss in about a teaspoon of sugar into the sauce prior to simmering. Or a splash of good red wine if you want a more robust flavor.