As I mentioned in a previous post below, we are blessed, truly blessed , to be invited every year to a Seven Fishes Dinner on Christmas Eve, hosted by Joe and Sandy Attanasi and their family at their home in Cranford, NJ. It is an Abruzzi-style marathon of impressive food without equal, and Joe Attanasi, the patriarch of the family, does almost all of the cooking for the dinner, with help from his son, Joe and me. Joe Sr. has kept alive this family tradition for Xmas Eve for over 20 years, tracing his experience back to childhood when his grandparents prepared and served the dinner. Joe's parents kept the tradition uninterrupted, and Joe has kept the string of dinners a constant in his family.
Most years I have provided an eggplant parmesan to the menu, other years I've also prepared one of the fish courses. This year's diiner, attended by a flowing group of 16 or so, was a smaller gathering than many of the previous years, but the dishes were spectacular.
We always begin with drinks (Joe Jr. brought a nice cooler of microbrews including Geary's Hampshire Ale, Troegs Hopback Amber, Sierra Nevada Celebration and Abita Turbo Dog , if I recall correctly), assorted salamis, crackers and cheeses, and then, once everyone has arrived, sit down to bracingly fresh jumbo shrimp cocktail. That opener is followed by linguine with clam sauce, a lusty version with garlicky, herb flecked sauce and plenty of clams. Despite the awareness that so much more food is eminent, the is the one course where many people have second helpings. Strange, I know, but it's the best damn linguine with clam sauce I'VE ever had.
The next course was stunning in its simplicity: baked cod filets, marinated in sesame oil and lemon and dusted with paprika, the fresh , clean cod was firm, the marinade was subtle and that paprika dust tied it together. best fish of the night, hands down. Next came salmon filets with a soy-lemon pepper glaze that balanced the richness of the salmon very well. Next came out a very nice version of eggplant parmesan made by a local Italian food market, the eggplant sliced razor thin and wafered around a judicious amount of tomato sauce and cheese.
Tilapia in a panko crust was next, and the filets were the largest, thickest tilapia cuts I've ever seen (Joe sourced the tilapia at Costco, he confided)! Their shape and size helped the thin panko crust retain a lot of moisture in the fish, so the tilapia was surprisingly moist, and was sereved up with some homemade tartar sauce. For the next course, I prepared my recipe for Shrimp all Ajillo, posted previously here, and I tweked it with roasted red peppers and green peas and served it over steamed white rice. I notched the heat up a bit, closer to the original Spanish recipe, and a few folks found it a bit too spicy, but they didn't exactly stop eating it either.
Next came three cold seafood salads: bacala salad with hot cherry peppers and garlic, prepared by Joe Jr., scungili salad with shiitake mushrooms, and octopus salad with lemon and olive oil, the latter two made by Joe Sr. The heat and garlic elevels of the bacala salad put my shrimp dish to shame, but it was a dangerously delicious dish to eat. The scungili and mushrooms are a good pairing, very earthy and sweet. The octopus salad was tart and chewy and a lot of fun, a new addition to the cold salad course.
After a bit of a break from all that dining, the women in the family bring out a prodigious array of desserts and cookies, from traditional Xmas cookies to cheesecakes and carrot cake, pies and tarts, even rice pudding, all of it completely overwhelming. But the lively conversation assuages most of the guilt and it always seems like I try way too many desserts.
And you'd think we would be done with that, but, um, no. AFTER dessert comes fresh slices of scamorze (dry mozzerella), salami and prosciutto, and cordials or wine for nightcaps. We started at 6:30 PM. We left at 12:30AM. This is serious eating. And the biggest best, most glorious meal I eat all year