What’s Cooking: Seafood dishes for Christmas Eve

Sourdough bread is a must to serve alongside this easy cioppino, a version of the traditional San Francisco seafood stew.
Sourdough bread is a must to serve alongside this easy cioppino, a version of the traditional San Francisco seafood stew. Kansas City Star

The Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve is a southern Italian tradition that crossed the Atlantic with Italian immigrants and now is mostly celebrated in the U.S.

No one is certain why seven seafood dishes are served – seven hills in Rome, maybe? – and in fact some families celebrate with nine or more dishes.

Below are three recipes for dishes we thought would be ideal if you want to follow the tradition, plus four more ideas to fit into the meal wherever appropriate.

The only thing missing is dessert – no jokes about fish cakes, please – but some amaretti cookies with gelato, we think, would hit the spot after such an extensive meal.

Feast of Seven Fishes menu ideas:

▪  Dollop some cocktail sauce in small phyllo cup and position a large cooked shrimp on top of each. Alternatively, put a bit of herbed cream cheese in the cup first, then add the cocktail sauce and shrimp.

▪ Toss salad greens with an anchovy paste-based vinaigrette (a purée of fresh orange juice, sherry vinegar, a can of oil-packed anchovy fillets and some extra-virgin olive oil).

▪ Rub salmon fillets with a combination of coarse salt, brown sugar and dry mustard powder, then grill or broil the fillets.

▪ Warm (canned) crab quickly in a butter-white wine sauce, then toss it with freshly cooked pasta, red pepper flakes and Parmesan.

Easy cioppino

Serves 4 to 6

Not as authentic as a San Francisco version, perhaps, but a lot quicker. Recipe from the Kansas City Star. Serve with sourdough bread.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

One 14.5-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth

One 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, with liquid

1 medium zucchini, not peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

8 ounces medium fresh or frozen, thawed shrimp, shelled and deveined

One 6- to 8-ounce cod fillet, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

1 cup fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, 4 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in celery and carrot, and cook, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring frequently, 30 seconds.

Stir in broth, tomatoes, zucchini and seasonings. Heat until boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high. Stir in shrimp, cod and spinach. Cook, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes or until shrimp, fish and spinach are cooked. Do not overcook.

Per serving, based on 4: 180 calories (27 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 103 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 153 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

Shrimp and scallops with tomato and feta

Serves 2-3

Adapted by The Washington Post from “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, $35, 320 pages). You can add a cup of clams, which the Post omitted from the original recipe. Instead of using 3/4 cup of white wine, this version used sparking cider instead. Serve with rice, couscous or bread.

3 scallions

Leaves from 6 to 8 stems oregano

3 cloves garlic

1 lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

3 1/2 cups canned, no-salt-added, fire-roasted diced tomatoes, plus any collected juices

1/2 cup bottled clam juice

3/4 cup sparkling apple cider (may substitute white wine)

1 teaspoon sugar, preferably superfine

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces peeled and deveined raw shrimp (26-30 count)

8 ounces large, dry-packed scallops

3 ounces feta cheese

Cut the white and light green parts of the scallions on the diagonal into thin slices. Mince the oregano to yield 2 tablespoons. Thinly slice the garlic.

Use a vegetable peeler or knife to cut three wide strips of lemon peel (without pith).

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring to keep the garlic from burning. Add the tomatoes, clam juice, cider, sugar, oregano and strips of lemon zest. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice; the mixture should thicken.

Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Discard the lemon zest.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Have a baking dish at hand that’s large enough to hold the skillet mixture. Add the shrimp and scallops to the skillet; stir and cook for a minute or two, then transfer the mixture to the baking dish.

Break off chunks of the feta and sink them into the liquid of the mixture. Scatter the scallions on top.

Roast for 3 to 5 minutes or until the seafood is just cooked through. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze juice (to taste) over the top of the dish.

Divide between individual wide, shallow bowls. Drizzle each portion with a little oil. Serve right away.

Cajun-style braised cod

Serves 4

Shop for a Cajun seasoning mix that contains more spice than salt, or create your own. Recipe from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick for The Washington Post.

1-pound piece skinned cod fillet, cut into four equal pieces

2 teaspoons Cajun spice blend (see note above)

1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

3 ounces smoked, cooked andouille sausage, cut lengthwise into quarters, then thinly sliced (3/4 cup)

1/2 cup finely diced onion

1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 medium rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste (may substitute 2 tablespoons regular tomato paste)

1/3 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup no-salt-added chicken broth

Kosher salt (optional)

Lay the cod on a large plate or sheet of aluminum foil. Evenly coat each piece with the Cajun spice mix. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, shallow braising pan or skillet over medium high heat.

Once the oil shimmers, add the cod fillets, skinned side up. Cook for about 2 minutes, just until lightly browned. Flip and cook for 2 minutes. Carefully transfer to a plate.

Add the andouille to the pan (over medium-high heat); cook, stirring every minute or so, for about 5 minutes, until the sausage pieces start to brown. Add the onion, green pepper and celery; if the pan seems dry, add the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Reduce the heat to medium; cook, stirring every minute or so, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute, then pour in the wine. Increase the heat to medium-high; cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until the wine has reduced by half.

Add the broth and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, then uncover, taste and add salt if needed. Add the cod, skinned side down. Spoon the broth and vegetables over the fish pieces to coat.

Reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and cook just until the cod is done, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve immediately.