Tradition is what the holidays are all about. And nothing says tradition more than food. I was reminded of this while riding in my truck Friday, returning home from a day of pheasant hunting.
I was listening to feature on North Dakota Public Radio about Germans from Russia Christmas traditions, including food. The story talked about a traditional early-morning (3 to 4 a.m.) meal that was served after Midnight Mass and how it’s seemed to have been lost as the older generations have passed on and the younger ones have started their own.
Just about everyone has their own Christmas Eve dinner tradition. For example, a friend of mine from the gym makes two big pans of lasagna for her daughters and their families each year. Our Christmas Eve meal tradition for the past 20 years or so has been baby back pork ribs cooked in homemade sauerkraut, which is served with mashed potatoes, a vegetable or two and a salad.
One of the most interesting Christmas food traditions that I’m aware of is practiced by some people of Italian descent. They observe the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve that dates from the medieval Roman Catholic Church.
I thought about that when coming across the following recipe for cioppino, adapted from one at Ciopinot in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Ciopinot’s take on this classic contains a lot of flavor in just a few simple steps.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ pound (about 1½) leeks, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced diagonally ½-inch thick
1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 dried bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
1½ cups peeled and diced tomatoes, cut into ¾-inch dice
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 cup dry white or red wine
½ to 1 cup clam juice
4 to 6 ounces large shrimp (16 to 20 count per pound), shelled and deveined
½ pound large scallops
6 ounces firm, light-flesh fish steaks (such as swordfish), cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons cold butter, chopped
Freshly chopped basil and oregano, for garnish
In a medium, heavy-bottom pot heated over medium-high heat, add the oil, then stir in the onions, leeks, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, pepper and saffron. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and the herbs are fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce and wine. Cover and simmer gently to develop the flavors, 30 to 45 minutes. Thin if desired with ½ cup to 1 cup clam juice. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon hot sauce, or to taste. The cioppino base can be made ahead of time to this point; remove from heat, cover and refrigerate up to one day (reheat before continuing).
To the pot, add the shrimp, scallops and fish. Cover and simmer gently just until the fish and shellfish are firm and opaque, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pot and remove from heat. Stir in the chopped cold butter, stirring just until the butter melts to add a little richness to the broth. This makes about 5 cups cioppino. Ladle the cioppino into wide bowls, garnishing each serving with freshly chopped basil and oregano. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 338 calories, 23 grams protein,; 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 16 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 111 milligrams cholesterol, 7 grams sugar, 915 milligrams sodium.