Debbie Anday, Mixologist at Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona offers Baristanet readers a Christmas cocktail with seasonal flavors to enjoy at your holiday meal.
Like many families, mine follows some holiday food traditions. Years ago when my Italian-American grandparents were alive, they served seafood on Christmas Eve. Over the past three decades, homemade lasagna, meatballs and ricotta cheesecake became staples on many Christmases.
Baristanet asked restaurant owners who make up Montclair’s diverse restaurant scene what they serve and eat around the holidays:
I found some delightfully magenta Japanese yams while foraging for seasonal goodies in the
dark woods well-lit aisles of my local Whole Foods.
Vivid on the outside, they’re crisp-white inside, and a wonderful addition to a festive tray of roast vegetables. They were just the inspiration I needed for my annual Asian-twist latke tradition, which enters its 17th year (er, I started early!).
For Southern Italians and Italian-Americans, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a feast — Feast of the Seven Fishes. The special meal typically consists of seven (for the seven sacraments) different seafood dishes and is believed to have originated in Southern Italy, where it is known as The Vigil (La Vigilia). The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat or milk products on Fridays, and on the day before Holy days like Christmas.
The number of fish seems to be more of an Italian-American thing according to Montclair resident Sara Villa, who grew up in Genoa, but has a mother from Naples in the south:
“For us it’s not really the seven fishes but we do have a dinner with just fish; fish salad (octopus, crab meat, shrimps and calamari, pasta with clams or mussels and maybe some baked Branzino.”
Tessa Aniello Vining of Montclair, whose family hails from Sicily and other parts of southern Italy, says there is no set number of dishes, but the meal is “a mix of a lot of different things like eel, shrimp, cod, calamari, anchovies, etc.”
Cathy Turiano Patullo of Montclair has in-laws from Boiano, near Naples, a mom from the Marche region, and a dad from Calabria — so you can be sure they feast on fishes on Christmas Eve! Patullo says you can have seven fish for the seven sacraments, 13 fish for the apostles and Jesus, or three for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “My in-laws just make lots of fish!”
For others, seven is the tradition. Ashley DiGeronimo of Montclair spends Christmas Eve with her husband’s family who hail from Calabria in the south. Their feast has seven fishes.
For Italian-American Justin Mannato of Montclair, seven is the number and keeping the tradition is important. He wrote about the significance here on his blog years ago.
No matter how many fishes you eat on Christmas Eve, you can enjoy a Feast of the Seven Fishes at these local restaurants or enjoy it at home with the help of these markets:
Want to enjoy fine dining, drinks, dancing and festivity on New Year’s Eve?
Here are some ways to ring in 2015:
Hanukkah begins at nightfall on Tuesday, December 16, and continues for eight days, with the final lighting of the menorah on Wednesday, December 24. The holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days, so it’s celebrated by eating fried (oily) food.
Here are some local places and recipes for treats for the Festival of Lights:
Montclair Bread Company (113 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ, 07042) is taking orders for Jelly Doughnuts to make your Hanukkah celebration complete. Each box comes with 3 apricot, 3 raspberry & 3 strawberry for $25. Special for pre-orders only. Available from December 16 -24.
Looking to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas dining out with family and friends? Here are some local restaurants offering wonderfully festive menus:
The Orange Squirrel in Bloomfield will offer a traditional Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration — a Seven Fishes Dinner. Enjoy Charred baby Octopus, Bay Scallops Crudo, Crispy Salmon Cake, Spicy Mussels Marinara, BBQ Skate “Ribs”, Smoky Tuna, and Bronzino Filet.
Seven Fishes Dinner at The Orange Squirrel
Wednesday, December 24
The Orange Squirrel, 412 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ
$70 pp plus tax and 20 percent gratuity. Reservations 973.337.6421
Raymond’s has been feeding Montclair since 1989 and Ridgewood since 2012. Now owners Raymond Badach and Joanne Ricci want to feed more. They are selling Raymond’s ornaments, priced at $10 each, and donating all proceeds to organizations that also “Feed Jersey” — Toni’s Kitchen in Montclair and Social Service Association in Ridgewood.