Christmas,  Fish / Seafood

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Calamari Pomodoro

In many Italian homes Christmas Eve celebrates the Feast of Seven Fishes.  I say many homes, but not all Italian homes, as my family did not follow this tradition.  Christmas Eve was more about the children, getting together with my cousins, playing games and keeping ourselves busy until we were finally allowed to open our presents, pretty close to the midnight hour.  Among all the food served that night, it was the homemade Sicilian pizza that I reached for every time!

In later years as I learned of this southern Italian tradition, I began incorporating the Seven Fishes into our Christmas Eve.  I love following traditions along with the anticipation of the special time together with family and enjoying these once a year celebrations.  Last year my children and I shared our Christmas Eve with some very dear friends and my menu was as follows:

Spinach and Crab Dip

Smoked Fish Dip

Calamari Salad

Baked Scampi

Bay Scallops Augratin

Tilapia Francaise

Caprese Salad with Smoked Salmon

Pasta with Pecorino and a Walnut Herb Sauce

Caesar Salad (with anchovies!)

Roasted Broccoli

This year I will change my menu slightly serving the calamari in a gentle spicy sauce.  Fried Calamari is always my favorite appetizer when eating out.   I’ll test out every restaurant’s version, taking note on my favorites.  Mostly offered with a marinara but some of my favorites, especially at a local sushi restaurant, top the fried calamari with chopped peanuts and a sweet sauce.   Sharing with someone who likes to eat the tentacles is a plus for me!! 

I’ve never been fond of deep frying so making fried calamari at home is something I’ve not done.  (If you’re looking for a great fried calamari recipe though, check out ChgoJohn’s!) 

My at home Calamari dish is quick to make; which by the way is exactly how Calamari needs to be cooked; quickly as it will become rubbery if overcooked.  It’s best to serve immediately so this will be one of my first course offerings and I will round out my menu with other dishes that can either bake slowly or served at room temperature.  A few suggestions I have will include; Linguini and Clam Sauce, Grilled Tuna Salad, Shrimp Scampi Salad, Fresh Herb Roasted Salmon.

Calamari Pomodoro

adapted from North End Italian Cookbook

1 ½ pounds cleaned calamari rings (I purchase cleaned, calamar rings frozen)

¼ c. olive oil

1/ bunch scallions, chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Srirachi sauce

28 oz can San Marino whole tomatoes, crushed

Fresh basil, tarragon, mint and oregano

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Lemon wedges for garnish

Rinse and dry calamari rings, set aside.

In a large skillet on low heat, heat olive oil and sauté shallots, scallions, garlic, crushed red pepper for approximately 5 minutes.    Raise heat to medium high and add in calamari.  Toss lightly and quickly, adding in few dashes of Srirachi sauce.  Saute for 2 minutes, remove calamari with a slotted spoon and set aside.

If necessary, add a few more drops of olive oil and add the tomatoes, crushing with a wooden spoon.  Gently simmer the sauce adding in the mix of fresh basil, tarragon, mint and oregano.  Add in additional crushed red pepper and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Continue to simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes.

Return calamari to the skillet with the chopped fresh parsley.  Simmer to heat through about 3-5 minutes.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes to marry the flavors.  Serve at once with some crusty ciabatta bread.

I love being in the kitchen. Early mornings, soft music, a hot espresso. Easing into the preparation of delicious meals. Glancing through cookbooks, gathering inspiration and planning my day. I look forward to the cycles of the seasons, the pleasures of tasting and savoring and sharing this with those dear to me. Weekends are special to me as my week days are often rushed, but still I create the ambiance, light the candles, set the table and uncork the wine.


  • ChgoJohn

    Great minds think alike! Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on Mom’s calamari salad recipe, another Christmas Eve tradition. Your recipe here sounds wonderful, Linda, and that photo so tantalizing! I’m off to a grocery and should’ve have viewed this after I got home. You’ve got me pretty hungry here; never a good thing when heading to the market. Thank you for the kind mention of my blog! 🙂

  • Karen

    Your recipe sounds great. When my mother in law was with us, she would stuff the calamari. She then made a stuffing of the legs, breadcrumbs, and seasonings, stuffed the bodies and then topped them with sauce and baked them. One of the seafood courses for Christmas Eve.

  • Kristy

    Oh my kids (and Mike and I) would LOVE this recipe. We took my parents out for Italian the other night and the waiter came by and asked if we were ready. Both Mr. N and Miss A instantly shouted “Calamari!” They’ve been hooked since they were each one. 🙂 This looks so good Linda. It may make my Christmas Eve table this year too. Every year the four of us sit down to dinner together on Christmas Eve and we always make an Italian meal. We may not have a drop of Italian in us, but we’re Italian at heart. 😉 And I’d love to see the recipe for your pasta with pecorino and walnut herb sauce. I’m drooling at the thought.

    • spicegirlfla

      Your kids willingness to taste all kinds of food is awesome! I can’t say mine would! That is so cool you do Italian for Christmas Eve! I know I had not posted any of my recipes from last year and wasn’t sure which ones to add in this month, so your recommendation for the pasta is great! I should be making it soon!

  • Lisa @smartfoodandfit

    Omg, this looks so amazing. I think I’m going to make this today! My parents will be in Italy for Christmas this year and we are celebrating it today at their house. I have such wonderful memories as a child too hanging out at my Zia Rita’s house on Christamas eve. My family too always prepares fish dishes but I need to learn how to do that, you’d think after 30 something years I would have attempted to learn how to prepare the dishes? That is why I love following your blog, your recipes reminds me of my dad’s side of the family’s cooking and it just feels like home! 🙂

    • spicegirlfla

      I’m so glad you find my blog and food comforting! You’re my go to for lots of healthy good recipes!! You certainly could cook all these seafood/fish dishes! I cook with simple seasonal ingredients and not alot of fuss or complication!!

  • Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

    This is a tradition I’ve kept from childhood. We have stuffed calamari, stuffed shrimp and linguine and clams. One Christmas Eve, Katherine was in Fresh Market at the seafood counter and some old gentleman were looking at cod while they all waited. They saw what she was ordering and said you must be Italian. She said “by marriage.” They just knew because no one else in the store was at the seafood counter. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  • Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

    That is quite a feast of a menu indeed! My husband adores calamari (you know how there’s always one dish you’re always looking out for in a restaurant? that would be it for him). This recipe sounds delicious and fragrant – I should surprise him with it! (love the tomato base…)

  • Sissi

    The Seven Fish tradition sounds both healthy and appetising. The older I get the more I love fish and seafood. I am a big fan of calamars, but have never had them in a tomato sauce (I have rather cooked them Asian way), so I must test your recipe one day. Thank you for the excellent fish & seafood dishes ideas!

  • Charles

    I just love calamari and that seven fish tradition sounds fantastic – so much “lighter” than the kind of food we have for the English Christmas foods. I read that on a typical Christmas day in England, the average person eats 8000 calories in total…. enough for 4 days worth of food!!! I know this tradition is for Christmas eve, but even so – I’m in favour of things like this 🙂

  • David

    Absolutely one of my favorites! I’ve been lucky to spend Christmas Eve with my brother’s in-laws the last 10 years or so, and they do “The Feast.” Easily one of my favorite Christmas Traditions. Your calamari looks wonderful. I wish I had some for breakfast.

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