We The Italians | Italian cuisine: Seafood Feast

Italian cuisine: Seafood Feast

Italian cuisine: Seafood Feast

  • WTI Magazine #170 Dec 18, 2023
  • 1276

Fish has been enjoyed during the Cenone, or Christmas Eve meal in Italy since antiquity. The Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes is a traditional Italian American banquet-style meal usually comprised of several different seafood courses. 

The number of courses or types of fish served at the meal is open to interpretation. Some people maintain that the number seven in this feast stands for the seven sacraments, and others say it refers to the number of days it took God to create the universe. Other variations on the feast call for nine types of fish to be served, signifying the Holy Trinity times three. And still others say the correct number is thirteen, for the twelve apostles and Jesus. 

This month I’m sharing a favorite from my Quick and Easy Mediterranean Recipes book that’s deserving of the center stage position on your table whether it’s enjoyed alone, or in a series of seafood dishes. If you’d like to try your hand at a complete Feast of Seven Fishes menu, check out my menus and recipes here and here

Sicilian Swordfish Bundles/Involtini di Pesce Spada 

Swordfish is one of the most traditional fish in the southern Italian diet. Although it can be eaten at any time of year, it is often a part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes custom celebrated on Christmas Eve. 

4 tablespoons (60 ml) Amy Riolo Selections  extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup (226 g) chopped boxed tomatoes, such as Pomi brand

1 cup (226 g) strained boxed tomatoes, such as Pomi brand

4 tablespoons (36 g) toasted pine nuts, divided

2 tablespoons (5 g) freshly chopped basil

1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt or salt, divided

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dash of crushed dried red chili flakes

2 boneless swordfish fillets (3/4 pound or 340 g), placed in freezer for 30 minutes for easier slicing

2 tablespoons Fresh Breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons (15 g) grated Pecorino cheese

2 tablespoons (18 g) raisins, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained

1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

2 tablespoons (8 g) chopped fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley, divided

¼ cup (22 g) finely chopped fennel

2 anchovy fillets, chopped


Heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it releases its aroma, 30 to 60 seconds—do not let garlic turn brown.

Stir in the chopped and strained tomatoes, 2 tablespoons (18 g) pine nuts, basil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, and chili flakes, stir, and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

With a filleting knife, carefully and neatly slice the swordfish fillets crosswise once into about 1/8-inch thick slices. Cut each piece in half to make 4 pieces.

Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of olive oil, bread crumbs, Pecorino, raisins, remaining pine nuts, onion, parsley, fennel, and anchovies in a small bowl, and mix well to combine.

Place the fish pieces on a work surface covered with waxed paper or on a large plastic cutting board, and spread one tablespoon of the bread crumb mixture on each piece of fish. Press down firmly with your hands, so that the filling sticks.

Carefully tuck in the sides of fish. The sides must be firmly tucked in so that the filling doesn’t escape. Starting at the wide end, roll up the fish, completely encasing the filling. Use toothpicks or skewers to secure the rolls.

Slowly remove lid from tomato sauce and add the rolls into simmering sauce. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, or until fish is cooked through.

Transfer the fish to a serving platter, remove skewers, and top with the remaining sauce.

Yield: 4 servings