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Feast of the Seven Fishes

If you're getting tired of serving up the same old ham or turkey every Christmas, maybe it's time to consider a new tradition: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. A custom originating from southern Italy, this meal that's eaten on Christmas Eve is also known as La Vigilia, or "the day Catholics stuff themselves silly with seafood because they're supposed to be abstaining from red meat." No one knows anymore why seven is the number of courses that must be served, and frankly, no one cares. Some Italian families go so far as to present 13 courses. The more food the better – that's the country's official motto, isn't it?

There are many traditional southern Italian dishes that show up at this meal, such as salted cod and roasted eel. But for the sake of keeping things familiar, I've put together a menu of dishes that'll be savored by all your guests, even the ones who will raise an eyebrow (like my husband, the carnivore) at the idea of an entire feast consisting only of seafood.

These dishes also happen to be some of our food writer Tim Vidra's greatest hits. Tim always has a way of making anything look and taste great, even anchovies.

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It's nice to begin with something light, like these simple, healthy tuna sashimi bites. Almost makes you forget that you've just embarked on a seafood pig-out session.

For those who're not so into the uncooked, seared scallops make a great alternative antipasto. Tim shows us how to pan-fry these intimidating bivalves to glorious perfection.

Every good Italian feast includes a light course of insalata – but this shrimp salad stuffed avocado dish is so rich, it probably shouldn't be considered a salad. Still, it's hearty, creamy and oh so delicious.

My favorite course of any meal is the soup (much to the confusion of the aforementioned meat-loving husband). There's nothing I find more comforting and filling than a steaming bowl of goodness, and this New England clam chowder totally fits the bill.

Now it's time for the primi, in this case a salty and flavorful bucatini with basil anchovy. Even those who reel in disgust at the mention of the A word will enjoy this light treatment of the fish, the combination of basil and lemon producing intoxicating herb and citrus overtones.

Delight your guests with a course of halibut baked in parchment paper. These little packages that they can open on their plates will probably be more exciting than anything they'll find under the tree this year.

And finally, bring out the big guns: branzino served whole. Whole fish always makes for an awesome presentation, plus it encourages family-style consumption. This recipe urges you to break out the grill, but for those buried under a foot of snow this time of year, pan-seared Chilean sea bass might make more sense.

Buon appetito!

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