Feast of Seven Fishes (for beginners)

Hilton Head Italian American families share their Christmas Eve recipes. 

Story By Carmen Hawkins DeCecco

Italian American families remember different versions of this Christmas Eve tradition. It began with American descendants of Italians — who had emigrated to the U.S. from fishing villages in southern Italy — as a way of honoring their ancestral homeland. The Feast of Seven Fishes, it turns out, did not originate in Italy, but in the U.S.

I learned this when I excitedly contacted a couple of friends in Verona for authentic Italian Feast of Seven Fishes family recipes. Both asked, “Feast of what?”  

The following is a composite Christmas Eve Seven Fishes menu, with recipes contributed by several Hilton Head Italian American families.


Shrimp cocktail 

Succulent shrimp with a tangy cocktail sauce is an easy-to-eat starter. This course is often served with Caprese salad draped with thin-sliced prosciutto and garnished with sliced tomato or melon.  


Denise DiDonato – Fried Smelts

Ingredients (serves 6) 

2 cups flour

3 tbs salt

1 1/2 pounds cleaned smelts

1 1/2 cups corn oil

Directions [1] Wash smelts. If purchased at a market, they will likely already be gutted and heads removed. Once fried, smelts are eaten whole, including bones and fins. [2] Mix flour and salt in a paper bag. Add smelts and shake, coating both the outside and cavity of smelts. [3] Heat 1/4-inch oil in frying pan over medium heat until popping hot. Add breaded smelts and fry 2-3 minutes on each side until crisp. Remove and place on paper towel to drain. Serve plain, with a lemon or with vinegar.


Anita DeCeccoAnita’s Stuffed Squid 

Ingredients (serves 6) 

6 medium squid

1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs

1 can pitted black olives, chopped

Parmesan cheese

1 egg

Marinara sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

Directions [1] Clean squid and dry. Chop off tentacles. [2] Mix breadcrumbs, egg, olives and Parmesan cheese. Stuff mixture into squid tubes. Squid will shrink, so do not over-stuff. Close off with toothpick. [3] Heat oil in fry pan with garlic.  Add squid and cook until brown on all sides. [4] Add marinara. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes. To avoid a rubbery texture, do not overcook. [5] Remove toothpick and serve as thick slices. Garnish with fresh herbs and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 


Denise NadeauAnna’s Baccalà


1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

12 ounces dried, salted cod, boned

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/3 cups tomatoes, chopped

¼ cup parsley, chopped

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions [1] Soak fish in water for 24 hours. Drain and add fresh water. Boil for 20 minutes or until tender. [2] Drain, cool and flake by hand. [3] Heat oil in skillet. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, wine, and cook on medium-high 3-4 minutes. [4] Add fish, parsley, pepper, lemon juice, toss and cook 1-2 minutes. Serve with parsley garnish.


Italian-American Club of Hilton HeadLinguine with Clams


5 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot chopped

1/2 lemon

Fresh parsley, chopped

3/4 cup olive oil.

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes 

1 cup dry white wine

2 (10-ounce) cans chopped clams

8 ounces linguine

1 teaspoon sea salt, black pepper 

2 tablespoons butter

Directions [1] Bring large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. [2] Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add white wine and cook 3 minutes.  [3] Open clams, strain juice into the pan. Bring liquid to simmer. Add remaining olive oil and stir. Bring back to simmer and reduce heat. [4] Add linguine to boiling water and cook to al dente. Using pasta fork, remove linguine from pot and place into the pan of clam sauce.  Add sea salt and black pepper. Cook medium-high, 4 minutes while stirring pasta. Add pasta water if pan gets dry. Add clams and toss until fully combined. Do not overcook. [5] Remove pan from heat and squeeze half a lemon over pasta. Add butter and parsley. Serve with grated Romano cheese.


Chris TassoneNana Tassone’s Baked Haddock


1 1/2 pounds fresh haddock 

8 garlic bulbs, chopped 

Extra virgin olive oil

1 stick soft butter

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Fresh parsley

1 lemon

1 cup Italian breadcrumbs

Directions [1] Heat oven tp 350 degrees. Pat fish dry; lightly salt and pepper both sides. [2] Coat 1 tablespoon of butter on bottom of individual baking dishes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of garlic on each and then add fish. [3] In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of garlic, parsley, cup of breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons of butter. Spread evenly over fish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top. [4] Bake 12-15 minutes. Broil to golden brown top crust. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with a lemon. 


Italian-American Club of Hilton HeadScungilli Salad 


1 (29-ounce) can of scungilli

2 stalks celery, chopped

1⁄2 cup red onion, chopped

3 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1/3 cup green olives, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons capers

Directions Rinse scungilli. In a bowl, toss together all ingredients. Refrigerate for half hour to let the flavors blend and serve. Buon Natale!

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