Feast of Seven Fishes • Recipes for an Italian Christmas Eve

In the tapestry of Italian-American customs, few are as steeped in communal joy and culinary splendor as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This cherished ritual, which takes place on Christmas Eve, is a vivid display of cultural identity, connecting a community to its maritime roots through a procession of seafood dishes. Yet, its story begins not along the Italian coastline, but within the Italian-American neighborhoods. Keep reading to discover authentic Italian Feast of Seven Fishes recipes you can make this year for La Vigilia! Why cook with us? You’ll find step-by-step instructions and video recipes to make cooking these classics easy!

A Feast Born in America

The Feast of the Seven Fishes, ‘La Vigilia’ in Italian, is a celebration that has been nurtured and evolved in the Italian-American diaspora. It finds its origins in the Southern Italian tradition of abstaining from meat on the eve of a feast day – a practice rooted in the Catholic faith. When waves of Italian immigrants reached the shores of America, they brought with them the spirit of their homeland’s Christmastime vigil. Over time, this transformed into the elaborate seafood feast we know today, a testament to both religious observance and the bounty of America’s coastal waters. Interestingly, while Italians in Italy today do celebrate La Vigilia with a banquet of seafood and vegetarian dishes, they do not call it Feast of Seven Fishes— a term which refers to the Italian American tradition.

Feast of Seven Fishes Recipes: Appetizers

#1 Italian Marinated Anchovies

Italian Fresh Marinated Anchovies Recipe
Fresh Marinated Anchovies! With lemon, vinegar and fresh Italian herbs, this Italian food recipe is a classic as an appetizer or even a main dish. Much like the ceviche of South America, the fresh anchovies are cured with acidic juice and a bit of salt.
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marinated anchovies

#2 Italian Tuna Mousse

Tuna Mousse Recipe (Italian Tuna Salad)
Tuna Mousse is Italy’s answer to ‘tuna salad.’ It is often found in bars during the aperativo, coffee shops and even bakeries and convenient stores. The tuna mousse is typically served as a sandwich filling or inside rolled-up roasted red peppers.
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Italian Tuna Salad - Tuna Mousse
Italian Tuna Mousse

Feast of Seven Fishes Recipes: Main Course

#3 Spaghetti with Clam Sauce

Italian Spaghetti with Clam Sauce Recipe
Finally! Restaurant-quality Spaghetti with Clam Sauce that you can easily make at home. Our tested recipe will make it easy.
Spaghetti alla Vongole

#4 Spaghetti with Mussels and Tomatoes

Italian Pasta with Mussels and Tomato Recipe
A classic Italian Spaghetti with Mussels and Tomato! An easy and economical seafood pasta recipe you can whip up in minutes.
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Spaghetti with Mussels and Tomatoes

#5 Sicilian Swordfish Pasta with Eggplant

Sicilian Swordfish Pasta with Eggplant Tomato Sauce
A gourmet swordfish dish popularized in Sicily! 'Fresh' is the ingredient that makes this dish so divine: Fresh swordfish, fresh sweet eggplant and tomato sauce made of fresh tomatoes. So healthy and so delicious! 
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Swordfish Pasta

#6 Fregola Pasta Recipe with Clams

Sardinian Fregola Pasta Recipe with Clams
A traditional recipe from the Italian island of Sardegna (Sardinia)! Fregola pasta is a traditional pasta of the island and it is frequently served with clams.
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Fregola Sarda

#7 Seafood Spaghetti

Seafood Spaghetti Recipe
The ultimate Italian Seafood Pasta recipe! Spaghetti with clams, mussels, calamari, squid, shrimp and scampi— a seafood lover’s dream!
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Seafood Spaghetti

#8 Zesty Herbed Salmon

Nonna Lulu’s Zesty Herbed Salmon Recipe
Discover Nonna Lulu's Herbed Salmon recipe—with garlic, thyme, lemon, chives.. and a secret ingredient. Bake it or grill it!
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Zesty Salmon

#9 Baked Sea Bass Recipe with Oven Roasted Potatoes

Baked Sea Bass with Herbed Roasted Potatoes
A whole sea bass roasted with a blend of fresh Italian herbs, tomato and laid on a bed of crispy roasted potatoes. Substitute any type of sea bass (spigola or branzino). Seriously good eats from the Italian island of Sardinia (Sardegna)!
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Sardinian Sea Bass with Potatoes and Tomatoes

#10 Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Recipe: Authentic Italian!
A classic pasta dish from Naples, this traditional Spaghetti alla Puttanesca recipe is so satisfying and easy to whip up in minutes.
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Pasta alla Puttanesca

Feast of Seven Fishes Recipes: Desserts

#11 Panforte Margherita

Panforte Italian Fruit Cake Recipe
This Italian fruitcake recipe is faithful to its Tuscan roots! Panforte Margherita is a Tuscan Christmas dessert that dates back to the late middle ages and is popular during the holiday season in Italy.
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#12 Panpepato

Panpepato Recipe: Italian Holiday Dessert with Chocolate, Nuts and Spices
Nonna Margherita's timeless Panpepato recipe—an Italian holiday dessert with chocolate, nuts, spices and dried fruit (if you dare!)
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#13 Torta Mantovana

Italian Almond Cake Recipe
This traditional Tuscan cake is deliciously simple. Eggs, flour, butter, lemon and almonds come together in perfect harmony.
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Italian Almond Cake Recipe
Torta Mantovana

#14 Panettone

Even Italians and Italy usually buy their Panettone! Here’s a list of Italian brands on Amazon (affiliate link)

#15 Zuppa Inglese

Zuppa Inglese Recipe
This Zuppa Inglese recipe is the perfect festive layered cake for a birthday or holiday. It features layers of sponge cake (pan di spagna) soaked in liquor and filled with layers of silky chocolate and vanilla pastry cream. One of the most beloved Italian desserts that you can make with the Italian sponge cake (pan di spagna). 
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Zuppa Inglese

Why Seven? The Symbolism of the Sea

The number seven holds a multitude of significances within the Bible and thus to a largely Catholic population. It represents perfection, completion, and in the context of this feast, the seven Sacraments. However, there is no strict rule on the number of dishes served. The feast can feature seven, nine, or even eleven seafood preparations, with each household tailoring the tradition to their interpretation and means.

Seafood as a Symbol

Seafood takes center stage in this celebration due to the Catholic practice of avoiding meat on holy days. But more than mere observance, the selection of seafood dishes is a deliberate nod to Italy’s rich coastal cuisine and the immigrants’ connection to the sea as a source of sustenance and livelihood. It’s a harmonious blend of faith, tradition, and a homage to the fishermen who have long been the lifeline of Italian coastal communities.

Italian-American Identity on a Plate

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a vibrant cultural identifier for Italian-Americans. It is a rich, culinary narrative that tells of the journey from the old country to the new, the adaptation to America’s resources, and the steadfast hold on heritage. Each dish, whether it be baccalà or calamari, is a chapter of history, a story of family, and a celebration of community.

A Tradition Tailored by Generations

While the tradition may have started with simple, humble dishes, over generations, it has adapted to the abundance of America. The Italian-American community has expanded the feast to include a vast array of seafood, from the Atlantic’s lobsters to the Pacific’s salmon, all the while preserving the essence of the Italian culinary philosophy: fresh ingredients, prepared simply to highlight their natural flavors.

Preserving and Evolving the Feast

The Feast of the Seven Fishes continues to evolve, shaped by the hands of each generation. It is an ever-flowing stream of culture, carrying the flavors of the past into the future, preserving the communal essence of the Italian-American Christmas Eve. Whether it remains strictly traditional or is infused with contemporary twists, the heart of the celebration remains – a feast that is much more than the sum of its parts, it’s a confluence of history, family, and faith.

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