I  first published this post on 7/12/2011


This morning I had the fantastic opportunity of being interviewed by Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program.

Fran asked me about how Sicilians traditionally celebrate Christmas and to suggest different menus featuring seafood and accompaniments that Australians could prepare as alternatives to the traditional turkey, chicken and ham, which are being replaced on our Christmas dinner plates.


When I am planning a Christmas lunch I consider:

Who am I feeding will they like this dish?  How many? How much time do I want to spend cooking/ Hot day or cooler? What can I prepare before hand? What fish looks good at the market? Which is my focus ‘wow factor’/emphasis? (is it to be (antipasto) entrée,  pasta (first course) or (second course) main?

Or would I prefer to present a selection of small courses?


In Sicilian Seafood Cooking there are many recipes that in Sicily are intended for swordfish and tuna. Although I have retained the name of the recipe I have also selected fish that are sustainable as preferable choices to endangered species.

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Sicilians have simple starters – a plate of olives, some nuts and this is because they like to save their appetites for what is coming and therefore I have selected a light fish starter. They also enjoy eating pasta and this is why I have given several alternatives for the first course. For the first course there is also a rice alternative. By the time you get to the second course you may need a big rest, but I have provided two recipes.

Fish restaurant_0118

Vegetables have not been included in this menu but they are and as well as important in Sicilian cuisine and there are very many interesting recipes in Sicilian Seafood Cooking and of course beautiful photos, not only of the recipes but as Fran said, also of Sicily.


Starter / antipasto: TONNO CUNZATO 

Raw Marinated Tuna

The fish needs to be fresh and of excellent quality and sliced thinly. Keep it in the fridge while it is in the marinade. The recipes for marinating tuna suggest using a mixture of 7 parts vinegar to 3 parts lemon juice. I prefer to use just lemon juice or 9 parts lemon juice to 1 part vinegar. You may wish to experiment.

This dish is usually served as an antipasto.

Suitable fish:

The recipe is intended for bluefin tuna which is not sustainable. Any skinless fillet cut thinly can be marinated the same way.

500g tuna or other thinly cut, skinless fish
Juice of 4 lemons
¼ – ½ cup white wine vinegar
Dried oregano to taste
2 spring onions (scallions) finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery (pale green stalks and leaves from heart) finely chopped
½ cup capers
¼ cup finely cut parsley
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Marinate the fish in the lemon juice and vinegar, making sure that the fish is covered with the marinade. Add oregano and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
For the dressing, mix together the spring onions, celery, capers, parsley, olive oil and seasoning. When ready to serve, remove the fish from the marinade and pour the dressing on top.


Ricotta Ravioli With Black Ink Sauce

2 ½ cups of ricotta
Salt to taste
Extras: sugar, citrus peel or finely cut marjoram
1 quantity pasta (recipe p45)
 pasta with black inkJPG
Black ink sauce:
600g squid or cuttlefish plus 2-3 ink sacs
1 medium onion &/or 2 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
100g ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large tblsp tomato paste
1 cup finely cut parsley
1 cup white wine
Chilli flakes or freshly ground pepper
Clean the squid or cuttlefish carefully and extract the ink sac. Cut into 1cm rings and set aside. The tentacles can also be used.
For the sauce, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil, add the tomatoes and tomato paste, parsley, white wine and sale. Bring to the boil and reduce until the salsa is thick.
Cook the pasta.
Add the ink and chilli flakes to the sauce and mix well. Add the squid rings and cook over a medium-high heat until the squid is cooked to your liking.
Drain the ricotta
Place it in the colander lined with cheesecloth and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Mix the ricotta with a little salt and any of the extra flavourings.
Make the ravioli
The most authentic and quickest way to cut the ravioli is by hand. There is no prescribed size- can be round or square or half-moon shaped.
To make individual ravioli, cut pasta into circles or squares. Place heaped teaspoons of stuffing in the centre of each, continuing until all the stuffing is used. For half-moon shapes fold the pasta over the filling. For others lay another circle or square over the top then moisten edges with a little water and press together carefully to seal properly.
Set the finished ravioli on a lightly floured cloth. They can rest in a cool place for up to two hours.
Cook the ravioli as you would any pasta. Lower them into water a few at a time and scoop each out when it floats to the surface.
Dress them carefully with the black ink sauce so as not to break them. Serve as is or with a scoop of ricotta or some grate pecorino.


Rice with angels

400g cockles
400g mussels
3 cups arborio, carnaroli or vialone rice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup finely cut parsley
¾–1 cup extra virgin olive oil
200g (7oz) prawns, shelled
and de-veined, cut into pieces; some left whole
200g (7oz) squid (small with tentacles), cut into slices
100g (3½oz) of one or a
mixture of: crabs, lobster, Moreton bay bugs, scallops (optional)
grated pecorino
salt and red chilli flakes to taste
Clean the cockles and mussels (see pages 84 and 87). Steam in a covered frying pan coated with a little oil. Once opened, shell them, but reserve some mussels in their shells. Cut up the flesh and save the juice.
While you are preparing the seafood, cook the rice (add the rice to plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water). Drain and place in serving bowl.
In a wide pan, sauté the garlic and parsley in extra virgin olive oil. Add prawns, squid (and any other seafood) and season. Stir for a few minutes, then add the clam juice. Toss for a few minutes without reducing the liquid.
Add mussels and cockles (shelled and unshelled) and heat through.
Mix the seafood with the rice. Arrange some mussels in their shells on top to look like angels with open wings. Serve with grated cheese.
pasta e granchi (crabs)_0090


Spaghetti with crayfish

The terms lobster and crayfish are often used interchangeably, but the marine species are lobsters and the freshwater species are crayfish. There are many types of lobsters known by a variety of local names.

Lobsters (aragoste) are popular around Trapani, although they are expensive. When making pasta with aragosta, I often buy spiders (the legs) – they can be quite meaty and very suitable for a pasta dish that requires cooked lobster. When buying lobster, select a heavy specimen with a good strong shell. They molt several times in their life cycle and, if they are pale with a thin shell, they are not likely to have much flesh. As for size, anything less than 1.5 kg (3lb 5oz) is not worth buying – a lobster under that size doesn’t have enough meat, especially from the spiders.

There is no comparison between the taste of a freshly cooked lobster and one purchased already cooked.Although this recipe is especially suited for lobsters, other crustaceans can be used.
This dish requires cooked lobster and it is added last. The other ingredient sare raw and pounded in a mortar and pestle (or pulsed in a food processor). The raw ingredients can also be finely chopped and mixed together. Use fresh ripe tomatoes.

This pasta dish is fantastic for the hot weather and it could be part of a celebratory lunch (such as Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere).

Lobster, no less than 50g (1¾oz) of meat per person
Juice of 3 lemons, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
about ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
600g (1lb 5oz) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and drained, chopped
1 small bunch of basil
½ cup finely cut parsley
½ cup capers; if salted soaked and thoroughly rinsed
500g (17½oz) spaghetti or spaghettini
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Remove the flesh from the lobster, tear or cut into small portions and place it in a bowl with the juice of 1 lemon and some of the oil.
Use a mortar and pestle to combine the rest of the ingredients. Begin with
the garlic, then add the tomatoes, seasoning, and some more oil. Then stir in
the basil, parsley capers and, lastly, the zest of 1 lemon – stir these into the
pesto. Add some of the lemon juice, taste the pesto and add more if necessary
(you may not need all of the lemon juice).
Cook and drain the spaghetti. Arrange in a serving bowl, add the pesto
and lobster and mix it gently. I like to add more grated lemon zest on top.
 Squid@market_0022 copy


Stuffed calamari with fresh cheese, almonds and nutmeg braised in marsala

6 medium squid (or 12 small squid)
1 cup breadcrumbs, made from good-quality day-old bread, toasted in a little oil
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely cut
¼–½ teaspoon nutmeg
150g (5oz) fresh cheese (tuma, pecorino fresco, mozzarella, fior di latte or bocconcini), cut into small cubes
1 cup dry marsala
½ cup almonds, blanched and chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Clean the squid: pull off the head and the inside of the squid and discard. Cut
off tentacles and save them for another time.
Mix the remaining ingredients except the oil together; check the seasoning.
Stuff the squid and secure each end with a toothpick.
Sauté each squid in olive oil – when the juice escapes it caramelises – turning once only during cooking. Alternatively, cover with foil and bake in a 200°C (400°F) oven for about 10 minutes. The squid will produce its own juice. To caramelise, remove foil and bake the squid for an extra 10 minutes.
Add chopped pistachio rather than almonds.


Baked fish with potatoes, vinegar and anchovies

1–1.5kg (2lb 4oz–3lb 5oz) whole fish, or large pieces
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 onions, finely chopped a small bunch parsley, finely chopped
250g (9oz) potatoes, thinly sliced
3–6 anchovies, finely chopped (see above)
juice of 2 lemons, plus grated zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Suitable fish
Any whole fish or large fillets of medium to firm fish, preferably with the skin
on. The fish is cooked whole and carved like meat at the table.
If using whole fish or fillets with skin, make a series of slashes in the skin. Mix
the oil with the vinegar, onions and parsley. Add seasoning and marinate the
fish for about an hour, turning frequently.
Place the fish in an ovenproof dish, spoon half of the marinade over it and bake for 10 minutes in a 200°C (400°F) oven. Arrange the sliced potatoes around the fish. Sprinkle the potatoes and the fish with more marinade, the anchovies, lemon juice and grated zest. Bake for another 20–35 minutes, depending on the type of fish. Serve hot.
 Place rosemary and bay leaves underneath the fish in the baking pan.


CHRISTMAS RECIPES with a Sicilian theme and “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

Buon natale e buone feste. Happy Christmas to everyone.


I hope that you will eat well and that all your efforts will be appreciated by those who will share your cooking with you.

I have many readers from USA who are probably wondering if for La Vigilia (Christmas Eve) I will take part in the so-called “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition which is strong among Americans of Sicilian and Southern Italian background and where they strongly adhere to eating seven different fish presented in seven different dishes. I n the past few years I have noticed that this “tradition” is beginning to creep into Australian Culture.


I remember first hearing about this tradition when Mary Taylor Simeti and I were interviewed by Jane O’Connor for an article in the December 2010 issue of Italianicious. Mary is a highly respected and widely published writer on Sicilian cuisine and culture. Neither of us has ever found any trace of this tradition in Sicily and I have not experienced this with Sicilians in Australia. We agreed that it may be an example of how a little known custom may have travelled with Sicilian emigrants and taken on a greater significance in America. It is not the norm in Australia yet and we ought not confuse what is fact and what is fiction.

What is traditional in Sicily is usually traditional in other parts of Italy. And it is the custom to share a celebratory meal with family and friends on Christmas Eve. And yes, they do eat fish because traditionally in the Catholic Church it was a day of abstinence (when no meat was eaten on Fridays and specified holy days). Over time this meal has become the Christmas celebration. Midnight Mass follows and it made sense for Italians, who love food, to spend the time eating while waiting for Mass. They sleep in on Christmas day and eat sparingly. For Christmas lunch my parents had brodo and tortellini or polpettine (broth with tortellini or small chicken meat balls). They were too tired and replete from the night before.


And why is seven the significant number? That’s anybody’s guess, and it is fun to speculate. There are so many things were seven is magic number: Is it the number of sacraments or the seven virtues or deadly sins? I also know that there are Seven Hills of Rome, a dance of the seven veils. I could go on.


In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, there are many recipes that could serve for Christmas Eve. I quite like the idea of cooking several courses and one could easily begin with a light seafood salad or a marinaded fish (thinly sliced and raw like a carpaccio) and progress to a lightly cooked whiting or a seafood pasta and then a heavier braised fish dish made with large thick slices of firm fleshed fish. Hopefully you will select sustainable fish for your recipes.

Traditionally eel and baccalà or stockfish are eaten on Christmas eve in many parts of Italy. Those of you who have a copy of my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking will find recipes for these.

There are also many recipes that could be useful for this holiday period on my blog. Here are only a few; click on the links below:

A SEAFOOD CHRISTMAS – BUON NATALE (Many recipes /interview on ABC with Fran Kelly Dec 2011
PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat

PESCE ALLA GHIOTTA  (Sicilian Fish, a recipe to satisfy the gluttons)
Mussels with Sambuca– anice flavoured liqueur)

GAMBERI AL COGNAC (Prawns cooked with cognac or brandy)

BAKED BACCALÀ (Baccalaru ‘o fornu – Sicilian and Baccalà al forno- Italian)


CASSATA (It is perfect for an Australian Christmas)
CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED – a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

CHRISTMAS DOLCI and DOLCETTI and Pistachio Shortbread Biscuit

GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds