Zuppa di Pesce, Basic Tomato Sauce, and the Feast of Seven Fishes

Zuppa di PesceThe Feast of the Seven Fishes is a holiday meal served on Christmas Eve – a fasting day for Southern Italians.  The seven fishes represent the seven sacraments – baptism, confession, communion, confirmation, marriage, priesthood, and last rites. In my family, my grandmother’s zuppa di pesce was the centerpiece of this Christmas Eve meal. I absolutely adored this dish and endeavored to recreate it from memory. The only part of the recipe not low-carb was the bread traditionally put on the bottom of the bowl, an ingredient easily removed.

I have included many links below because there are some techniques in the recipe that are not commonly used in the kitchen. Most of the time spent for making this recipe is in the preparation as the cooking takes only about 20 minutes.  It took me about 45 minutes to prepare all of the ingredients.

Zuppa di Pesce (Fish Soup)

serves: 8


2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion diced

2 large stalks celery diced

2 cloves garlic diced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

2 cups tomato sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup dry white wine or fish stock (You can also split the mixture half and half.)

1 lb mussels

1 lb clams

1 lb firm white fish

1 lb large shrimp

salt to taste


  1. Peel and devein shrimp.
  2. Check for bones with fingers and use tweezers or needle nose pliers to pull the bones from the fillet. Next remove the skin from the fillet or have a fishmonger remove it for you. Then cut into two-inch chunks
  3. Rinse clams and mussels to remove grit – you may have to scrub with a brush. Discard any dead mussels and clams, ones that are open, but do not close after being tapped.  If the mussels are not farmed, you might want to soak them in lukewarm water sprinkled with cornmeal to allow them to expel their grit. Remember to remove the beard from the mussels. Click here for more information on cleaning mussels. 
  4. Place a 5-quart dutch over over medium heat. I used an enamel, cast-iron dutch oven because it holds and transfers heat better than stainless steel.
  5. Add olive oil and wait until it heat up. If you place a wooden spoon in the oil and bubbles form, you know it’s hot enough.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the onion and celery and cook until they are softened, but not browned around the edges.
  7. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 60 seconds. Do not brown the garlic.
  8. Pour in the tomato sauce and wine.  Bring to a boil for three minutes.  This step is important because it creates a emulsion with the olive oil.
  9. After the sauce is boiling, add the mussels and clam. Reduce heat to medium-low so the sauce is at a simmer. Cook covered for ten minutes.
  10. Add the fish and shrimp and make sure they are submerged in the cooking liquid.  Cover and cook for another five minutes.
  11. Check the fish and shrimp to see if they are done. Check the sauce to see if it needs any additional salt.
  12. Discard unopened clams or mussels. Serve immediately.

Grandma’s Basic Tomato Sauce


Image courtesy of wikipedia


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large carrot grated

1/2 onion grated

4 cloves garlic

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried thyme

2 large (28 oz)  cans whole tomatoes

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tbs fresh basil (1 tsp dried basil)


  1. Open the tomato and remove as many of the seeds as possible, then use your hands to crush the whole tomatoes into a bowl. Reserve the liquid and set aside.
  2. Place a large, heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and wait until it heats up.
  3. Add grated carrot and onion to the bottom of the pot and saute until softened, about five minutes. Remember to stir occasionally.
  4. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and thyme. Saute until the garlic is fragrant, about 60 seconds. If you are using dried basil, add it at this time.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add the crushed tomatoes and the liquid. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
  6. Add the salt, pepper, and fresh basil. Cook for another five minutes.  Taste the sauce to adjust the seasonings.

Tomato image courtesy of wikipedia.



Filed under Recipes

2 responses to “Zuppa di Pesce, Basic Tomato Sauce, and the Feast of Seven Fishes

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