Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food & Family, written by Daniel Paterna, features a wonderful collection of Italian-American recipes for all occasions paired with treasured family memories and traditions. Highlights include Zeppole di San Giuseppe, Calamari Ripieni, Insalata di Frutti di Mare, Torta Dolce di Ricotta, Lasagne alla Paterna, Pizze Fritte, and more. I will also be sharing his recipe for Struffoli following the review.
Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book from powerHouse Books. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Daniel Paterna was raised in Brooklyn, New York as a second-generation Italian-American in the house built by his grandfather. He studied photography at City University and graduated from the Pratt Institute with a B.F.A. of Art and Design. He has worked with ABC News, AMC, A&E, Disney, ESPN, History, PBS and won an Emmy for his design of NBC’s coverage of the 1996 Olympics. His photography has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the 440 Gallery in Brooklyn.
Feast of the Seven Fishes
Feast of the Seven Fishes is divided into three parts: I Negozi (The Shops- Queen Ann Ravioli, Royal Crown II Paneantico, Faicco’s Pork Store, Villabate Alba, Frank & Sal, Savarese Italian Pastry Shop, Pastas Ravioli, Lioni, Papa Pasquale, United Meat Market, D. Coluccio & Sons, A.L.C. Alimentari Italian Grocery, and Sea Breeze II), La Festa (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Daily Dishes), and Passing It On. The end of the book has an index of recipes for easy reference.
Daniel begins with an introduction of his family and life growing up in Bensonhurst. He states, “This is not a cookbook in the classic sense. It is a visual history of my family’s cooking traditions and of my connections to my Italian American heritage.” I particularly enjoyed his focus on the local shops with photos and stories behind the owners and their families. He even highlights the customs and recipes surrounding holidays including the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.
What makes this book even more special is the incredible collection of heirlooms and notable memories scattered across the pages. Every single recipe has at least one photo of the finished dish, if not more. They are often paired with the family’s original recipes written on index cards. The serving sizes reflect family gatherings with some portioned for 4 people and others anywhere between 6-12. Measurements are listed in US Customary. Titles are written in Italian.
Feast of the Seven Fishes is a great pick for those looking for Italian-American recipes and stories of the people behind the food. The recipes are well balanced with appetizers, pasta, vegetables, seafood, meat dishes, and desserts. There is also a nice mixture of easy to more complicated dishes. Most of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store. Having access to fresh seafood will be helpful.
The festive Struffoli is a Neapolitan-based dessert made up of little marble-sized balls of dough deep-fried and soaked in a honey mixture. Daniel states, “My aunts and cousins would descend into my grandmother’s kitchen on a school night, roll up their sleeves, and drink lots of coffee to stay awake. The best part was how homework became of secondary importance to rolling and cutting pounds of dough into tiny marble-sized balls. It’s a true harbinger of Christmas.”
This recipe is definitely perfect for feeding a crowd, but it can also easily be halved for a smaller family. It is a bit on the labor-intensive side, especially with the larger quantity of dough, but the results are a stunning addition to the holiday table. After bringing together the dough, large pieces are formed into ropes about 1/2 inch thick. Slices a little smaller than a marble (they will puff some in the oil) are then cut off of the rope and rolled into smooth balls (my kids especially enjoyed this part and it helped the process go quicker to have a few extra hands).
After preparing the dough, the balls are fried in batches in 375˚F oil until golden and crisp on the outside. Drain on paper towel-lined baking sheets and allow to cool. To make the syrup, combine the honey, anisette, tangerine or orange juice, and the citrus rind and bring to a boil. The mixture should be smooth and just runny enough to easily coat the Struffoli. Add the fried dough to thoroughly cover, then scoop out, drain the excess, and pile into a mound (I have also seen them formed into a wreath shape).
Add the sliced almonds and rainbow nonpareils (Claire’s favorite part) for a finishing touch. Overall, the Struffoli were a big hit with the whole family. They also reminded me a bit of the Emirati Luqamaat (I love when I come across food connections like this).
My dough was a little on the dry side in the beginning and I ended up adding some more egg white to help bring it together. The exact amount needed may differ based on the size of your eggs.
I also made “S” Biscotti, Pasta del Fornaio, Salsiccie al Forno, and Pollo alla Griglia con Limone e Origano.
The recipe for “S” Biscotti comes from Villabate Alba. These lemony cookies are shaped into the form of an “S” and baked until crisp. They were delicious paired with a cup of coffee.
The Pasta del Fornaio was one of my personal favorites. Translating to “Pasta of the Baker,” spaghetti is tossed with a creamy fresh ricotta sauce. It is then topped with toasted, seasoned bread crumbs. The result was such a wonderful comfort food that comes together in under 30 minutes.
The Salsiccie al Forno is another easy dish that feeds a large family. Sliced potatoes, green peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, white wine, and spices are combined with sausage (cheese and parsley recommended) and baked until everything is tender and cooked through, about 1 1/2 hours. Pair simply with crusty bread.
The Pollo alla Griglia con Limone e Origano was a favorite for Chad. Thin chicken cutlets are grilled and served on a platter with an oregano-spiced lemon marinade. We served the chicken with fresh bread for dipping.
Excerpt from Feast of the Seven Fishes
- 10 large-size egg yolks
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 3/4 pounds unbleached all-purpose flour approximately 6 cups, plus more for dusting
- 8 cups honey
- 3 ounces anisette
- 4 ounces tangerine or orange juice
- 4 tangerines or oranges rinds only (without the pith), sliced very thin
- 4 cups canola oil for frying
- Rainbow nonpareils
- Sliced almonds
- Prepare several baking sheets or platters, half of them with a light dusting of flour, the other half lined with paper towel. Set aside.
- Place the egg yolks and whites in a large mixing bowl and beat well. Add the baking powder to the eggs. Gradually add the flour, combining it with the egg until you can knead it into a smooth dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured, large cutting board or clean, dry, flat surface. Break off a piece of the dough, roll it into a long 1/2- inch diameter strand and cut the strand into 3/4-inch pieces. With floured hands, roll each piece into a ball and place on the prepared cookie sheet or platter. Continue in this manner until all of the dough has been rolled into balls.
- Heat the oil in a 6-quart pot over medium heat until hot, 375°F on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, without crowding the pot, add some of the balls to the hot oil. Fry the dough for about 2 to 3 minutes, turning it gently until golden brown. Transfer the dough, using a slotted spoon, to paper towel-lined baking sheets or platters to drain and cool. Continue in this manner until all of the dough is fried. Make sure to maintain the oil temperature before adding the next batch.
- Combine the honey, anisette, tangerine or orange juice, and the sliced rind in another 6-quart pot. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add all of the dough balls in manageable amounts, bathing them in the honey mixture. When all are well coated, scoop out, drain, and pile onto a favorite platter in the shape of a mound. When cooled, top with rainbow colored nonpareil and shaved almonds.