Book Reviews2 Italian Christmas Eve: The Feast of Seven Fishes

Book written by: Linda and Rocco Maniscalco

Family traditions are often at the heart of childhood memories, and this is even more the case if the tradition is part of a family’s ethnic identity. Though my family’s Lithuanian heritage only played a big part of our lives at Christmas, I still remember the white straw Christmas tree ornaments and the seven meatless dishes fondly from childhood.

Giving tribute to their own family and cultural traditions, Linda and Rocco Maniscalco have memorialized the Italian attitude toward Advent and Christmas in their “Reminiscence with Recipes.” The book explains the significance of The Feast of Seven Fishes to the Italian celebration of Advent and Christmas and guides the reader through the preparations for this very meaningful meal.

“Italian Christmas Eve: The Feast of Seven Fishes” ($9.95) is a collection of delightful anecdotes that pique the reader’s curiosity about a recipe and then present the details of recipe itself, or a few variations thereon. Amid the recipes are many fascinating stories about preparing an eel (not a practice for the faint-hearted), the Italian custom of the cookie exchange, and the meaning of the traditional Italian toast: “Stata Buon” (Stay Well!). Also included is a list of “where to shop” for the higher quality or harder to find ingredients in these unique recipes. A valuable resource to those who live on the northeastern seaboard, the list is less useful for residents of landlocked states.

The recipe book is amplified by the explanation of a typical Italian Christmas Eve, which prefaces the book, as well as the introduction to the season of Advent, written by Bishop John Barres of Allentown, Pa. It is enhanced by the story of the recipes (Linda found them attached to the back of a portrait of her great-grandmother) and by Linda’s own tips and tricks for preparing the dishes in a modern kitchen with contemporary time constraints. Even for the culinarily inept, the book does a good job of introducing the idea of the Christmas Eve meal as the last fast, a celebratory fast, before the arrival of the Christ Child. You don’t have to be Italian to read, appreciate, or utilize this cookbook!

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