buon vigilia di natale! today is my favourite day of the year: feast of the seven fishes at my nona’s house.
every year this day is a HUGE to-do. nona spends a few days prepping all of the food, we all gather around the table – actually 2 tables pushed together now since every year there seems to be an addition to the family – and we eat, drink, laugh and eat some more. there’s usually a contest to see who ate the most of these amazing little fried shrimp (i’ve been known to win a few times), there’s always a few top buttons unbuttoned about 3/4 of the way through the night, and you can definitely find my dad and i taking shots of zambuca for “digestion” (lols).
la vigilia, or the feast of the seven fishes, is an italian tradition that dates back to the ancient tradition of the roman cathiolic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on christmas eve. the number 7 is rooted back in ancient times and is apparently repeated more than 700 times in the bible (including the obvious ones, the 7 deadly sins and days of creation). so, 7 courses are what’s customary to be on the table (even though we have usually 13 – gotta stick with the even numbers). and trust me, this is the only time you will find me embracing religious traditions, ever.
on the table you’ll generally find a few different styles of shrimp, calamari, fried smelts – and the traditional baccalá – which is salt cod that’s been soaked for days and then fried. i used to hate this as a kid, and we’d run around yelling ewwwww baccalá, but as an adult i love it with lots of fresh lemon!
this year, i’ve made a dish that doesn’t appear at our table, but one day will appear at mine (of course amongst my nona’s dishes!). it’s shrimp alla buzara – a simple dish with lots of flavour and a beautiful firey red colour that will stand out amongst the fried foods at the table. it only takes a few ingredients, and about 20 minutes, and would be the perfect addition to your table tonight!
shrimp alla buzara
about 15 large shrimp, shell on, cleaned & de-deveined
4 large garlic cloves, sliced
3 large shallots, sliced
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons olive oil
big pinch chilli flakes
salt & pepper
fresh parsley, for serving
heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep pan. add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add shallots and cook until everything is sizzling. add the chillies, season with salt and pepper an then add tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes until deep red and caramelized. add white wine and bring to a boil.
add shrimp and toss to coat. bring heat down to medium, and cover. cook for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally until shrimp turn pink.
to serve, drizzle with addition olive oil, cracked black pepper and chopped fresh parsley. enjoy with grilled bread to soak up all the juices, and serve with an extra bowl on the table for the shells.