A Celebration-Worthy Feast of the Seven Fishes Menu

An Italian-Style Christmas Eve Dinner

Baked Stuffed Cod or Haddock

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Each holiday season, many Italian-American families enjoy a Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. As its name suggests, the lavish, multi-course meal—also known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or La Vigilia—features seven courses of fish and shellfish dishes, served as appetizers, entrees, and pastas, plus a classic Italian dessert to wrap up the festivities.

So, where does this delicious tradition come from? The practice of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates back to the ancient Roman Catholics, who abstained from eating meat and dairy products on the eve of religious holidays. As for the number of courses, the number "7" appears many times in the Bible and is linked to some of the most important Catholic symbols, such as the seven days of Creation, the seven sacraments, and even the seven deadly sins. Seafood is also abundant in modern-day Italy, which is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Hence, the seven-course seafood feast Italian-Americans enjoy to celebrate Christmas Eve.

We included an array of classic seafood dishes as well as appetizers, sides, desserts, and cocktails that will round out your menu. Whether you're Italian yourself, or simply go wild for seafood, get inspired to host an unforgettable holiday meal with the recipes below. Buon appetito!

  • 01 of 21

    Frico

    Frico

    Kristina Vanni

    Thin and crisp frico are a deliciously simple Italian snack that are made with just one ingredient. Typically prepared with grated Parmesan, frico can be used as an elegant garnish, served as a snack, or offered as an appetizer before an Italian meal. Serve it as an appetizer with dip or on the side to mop up the delicious sauces.

  • 02 of 21

    Buttery Garlic Crab Bruschetta

    Buttery Garlic Crab Bruschetta Recipe

    The Spruce / Karen Hibbard

    We love classic bruschetta as a quick, delicious snack, but we find this variation perfect for the holiday—especially, since it's no longer tomato season. You don't need expensive lump crabmeat here (although it's fine if you want), since the mixture will get spread and covered in a blanket of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

  • 03 of 21

    Fried Calamari (Calamari Fritti)

    Fried calamari recipe

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Calamari are small squid, and when they are served battered and fried, they are one of the most classic Italian summer seafood dishes. These are crisp golden rings of tender squid that people eagerly squeeze lemon wedges over and then quickly eat them while they're still hot—and before everyone else gobbles them up.

  • 04 of 21

    Easy Butter and Herb Baked Oysters

    Easy Butter and Herb Baked Oysters

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

    Oysters baked in their shells with a buttery panko breadcrumb topping make an elegant appetizer to kick off your Christmas feast. When shucking oysters, do your best to retain the oyster liquor in the bottom shells, as it is full of wonderful flavor. Serve hot from the oven with lemon wedges for squeezing.

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  • 05 of 21

    Classic Fried Whitebait (Fried Tiny Fish)

    Classic Fried Whitebait (Fried Tiny Fish), fried fish and lemon wedges on a plate

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Whitebait is an old English term for tiny fish that are often dusted in flour and fried until crispy. Though whitebait are typically an English dish, we keep them in rotation as an alternative to fried anchovy or sardines if we have picky eaters on our hands. Since whitebait is always smaller than your pinky finger, you can eat the whole fish. The immature fish are tender, and you don't have to clean them or avoid bones and fins like you do larger fish.

  • 06 of 21

    Baked Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp

    Baked Stuffed Jumbo Shrimp

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

    Stuff jumbo shrimp with a garlicky breadcrumb mixture and bake quickly in the oven to make a fabulous holiday seafood entree. Keep a close eye on the shrimp to make sure they don't overcook—they're done when opaque.

  • 07 of 21

    Italian-Style Pickled Eggplant (Melanzane Sotto Aceto)

    Italian-Style Pickled Eggplant (Melanzane Sotto Aceto)

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

    Melanzane sotto aceto ("eggplant in vinegar") is an easy recipe for seasonal produce. Cooking the vegetables in vinegar before adding oil prevents the food from spoiling, and what starts as a recipe to extend the shelf life ends up becoming a tasty tradition that has continued long after refrigeration became the norm. Serve this as a side to your menu.

  • 08 of 21

    Polenta Cakes With Mushroom Ragu

    polenta cakes with mushroom ragu

    The Spruce Eats / Leah Maroney

    Polenta cakes with mushroom ragu and whipped herbed ricotta make a perfect fancy appetizer or a filling vegetarian side. The polenta cakes are crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. You can prepare the polenta, ragu, and ricotta ahead of time; then when you're ready, simply fry up the polenta and heat the ragu. You can swap the mushroom ragu for baccala or a fish spread to keep with the theme.

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  • 09 of 21

    Spicy Seared Scallops

    Spicy Seared Scallops

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

    Scallops are prized for their sweet taste and delicate texture, and when seared, develop a nice crust on the outside while keeping the inside soft and somewhat creamy. This recipe flavors the mollusks with Cajun seasoning, bringing a bit of spice to the dish, but you can opt for Calabrian chili to keep it in the Italian family.

  • 10 of 21

    Cioppino (Crock Pot Fishermans Stew)

    Crock Pot Fishermans Stew (Cioppino)

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

    Cioppino originated in San Francisco, but you can taste its Italian inspiration in every bite. The famous fisherman's stew mingles your favorite fish and shellfish in a luscious tomato and white wine sauce with dried herbs, onion, and garlic. Our crock pot recipe is convenient when you're juggling multiple dishes for a holiday meal because you can cook the broth overnight, and add the seafood half an hour before the cooking time is over. Serve with biscuits or crusty bread for soaking up the juices.
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  • 11 of 21

    Italian Stewed Octopus (Polpi in Umido)

    Italian Stewed Octopus (Polpi in Umido)

    This recipe for Southern Italian stewed octopus with white wine and tomatoes originates in Puglia near the heel of Italy's boot. Octopus requires long, slow simmering, so keep the temperature low and give yourself plenty of time. Serve with crusty bread or a big bowl of pasta.

  • 12 of 21

    Steamed Mussels in White Wine

    Steamed Mussels in White Wine

    The Spruce Eats

    Mussels steamed in white wine are a staple at trattorias in Italy, where they are always served with crusty bread for sopping up the sauce. Be sure to discard any mussels that do not open in the allotted cooking time.

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  • 13 of 21

    Seafood Casserole With Wine, Shrimp, Lobster, and Crabmeat

    Seafood Casserole

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

    A baked seafood casserole is an excellent main dish for when you don't want to linger over the stove. Wow holiday guests with this easy, sophisticated dish brimming with succulent lobster, shrimp, and crab. The seafood is smothered in a sherry-spiked white sauce and broiled at the end to form a beautiful golden crust. Or, make your holiday prep even easier by assembling the casserole ahead of time for your freezer (follow instructions in the recipe) and reheat it on the day.
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  • 14 of 21

    Baked Stuffed Cod or Haddock

    Baked Stuffed Cod or Haddock

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

    This sophisticated baked fish is simple to make but looks impressive. Your favorite holiday stuffing recipe goes into the cavity of a whole cod or haddock. The fish is covered with bacon to impart a salty, smoky aroma. The strips are removed near the end of cooking, and can be used for adding to mashed potatoes and salads.

  • 15 of 21

    Shrimp Scampi With Garlic

    Shrimp Scampi

    The Spruce Eats

    Sweet, plump shrimp are cooked to tender perfection in a garlicky white wine sauce in this winning recipe for shrimp scampi. Ladle them over hot cooked pasta noodles, and watch how quickly guests clear their plates.

  • 16 of 21

    Spicy Italian Shrimp Fra Diavolo Recipe

    Spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo Recipe

    The Spruce Eats / Morgan Baker

    Shrimp Fra Diavolo is a classic spicy Italian dish that comes together quickly. The heat comes from red pepper flakes, but you can use as much or as little as you like to adjust to your family's or guests' preferences. The recipe also calls for cooked shrimp, making this dish even quicker to put together. Serve with a green salad, some crusty bread, and perhaps a bottle of Pinot Grigio for the perfect meal.

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  • 17 of 21

    Clam Pasta With Garlic and White Wine

    Clam Pasta With Garlic and White Wine

    The Spruce Eats / Ali Redmond

    If you favor white wine sauces and love seafood, this is the seafood pasta recipe of your dreams. The simple sauce—made with white wine, onion, and garlic—is combined with flash-fried chopped tomatoes and topped with freshly steamed small clams.

  • 18 of 21

    Classic Italian Panettone

    Classic Christmas Italian Panettone

    The Spruce / Yana Karin

    From the Italian panetto or small cakepanettone is a large fruity enriched sweet bread, offered typically during Christmas throughout Italy and in Italian communities around the world. Originated in Milan, it is a large, dome-shaped cake that has been leavened with yeast. It has a slightly light and airy texture but a rich and buttery taste, and is not very sweet.

  • 19 of 21

    Italian Butter Cookies

    Italian Butter Cookies

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    Some may know these classic butter cookies from their local Italian-American bakery, while others recognize the swirly shapes from cookie tins set around the holiday table. Whether dipped in chocolate or sandwiched with jam, Italian butter cookies are light and not too sweet, with the majority of sugar coming from decorations.

  • 20 of 21

    Negroni

    Negroni cocktail recipe

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack 

    When you're looking for a classic cocktail to enjoy before a meal, few are as satisfying as the famous Negroni. It's a sophisticated aperitif featuring equal parts of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth and so easy that anyone can mix it up. While it's typically stirred and served on the rocks, the Negroni can also be shaken and strained into a cocktail glass with a lemon twist. 

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  • 21 of 21

    Godfather Cocktail

    Godfather Cocktail Recipe

     The Spruce

    A favorite since the '70s, the godfather is a simple mixed drink of scotch and amaretto. It requires just those two ingredients and is built directly in the glass, making it a very easy cocktail to mix up whenever you want a smooth-sipping drink. The godfather is an excellent happy hour cocktail and nightcap that goes wonderfully with desserts such as tiramisu, cheesecake, or baklava.