The Italians have brought us many gifts, from fine suits to fast cars to talking with our hands, but none is more enjoyable – and more worth emulating – than their affinity for big, boisterous, elbow-your-sister-to-get-the-last-bite meals. Holidays amplify the Italian penchant for doing everything over-the-top – especially Christmas Eve, when many Italian-American families celebrate what's known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The rules are fairly loose – no, you don't have to literally eat seven fish – but the basic idea, which likely stems from a Catholic restriction on eating meat, is to gorge yourself on a sprawling, all-night seafood meal that can contain as many as 13 courses.
In that spirit, we got three great Italian-American chefs, all of whom celebrated the Feast of the Seven Fishes growing up, to share some classic, approachable recipes perfect for the holiday table. Any other night of the year, each dish is a meal unto itself, but together, with plenty of good wine and as many friends and family as can fit at your table, they make for the most satisfying kind of dinner, no matter where you're from.
Philadelphia native Marc Vetri – who just about any big food personality will tell you is probably the best Italian-food chef in the country – hosts upwards of 30 people at his home every Christmas Eve. His father's parents brought the tradition to America, but after they died and all the grandkids went away to college, it faded – until Vetri resurrected it. "When I got married and started a family, I decided to start it up again," he says. "I have these great memories of doing this every year. I want my kids to have the same thing."