That’s my brother, sister, and me (the one in the red jacket). It seems like all the snow storms back then were at least 6 to 12 inches deep. One of those snowfalls exceeded all the others and started a holiday tradition my family holds near and dear to our hearts.
That year a blizzard was raging on Christmas Eve day so it was certain to be a white Christmas. Just when my mother began to prepare dinner the electricity failed and the entire neighborhood went black. Our family had a gas stove so dinner was still expertly prepared. My parents lit the table and house with candles—a tradition began.
Now, every Christmas Eve we all cook together—that same meal—and it’s enjoyed by candlelight! It’s lovely and fun and cherished.
We’ve added to it over the years. When we were high school we started to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve with our friends. We’d get home around 1 o’clock Christmas morning and one year convinced my parents we should exchange presents since, after all, it was Christmas Day! Afterwards we feasted on leftovers from the night’s dinner and fell into bed in the wee hours happy, well fed, and ready to start again the next day.
So, what’s the dinner we look forward to each year? It’s the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian American tradition where no meat is consumed on Christmas Eve. It starts with a wonderful pasta dish with anchovies. (Don’t wrinkle your nose! It’s fabuloso!) And, then four different kinds of fish and side dishes ensue. We never actually achieve SEVEN fishes although some years we’ve tried. For dessert—cannoli, sfogliatelli, cookies, fruits and nuts.
Finally, there’s a lot of groaning (ate too much) and whining by the little kids (can’t wait to open presents) while we clear the table. Then we gather and exchange presents—wrapping paper flies, many oohs & aahs, and smiles all around the Christmas tree. It’s a beautiful thing.
My gift to you this year is the pasta recipe—Vermicelli Aglio e Olio. It’s not my recipe or my family’s recipe. It’s one of the universally known dishes I’m sure thousands of families and restaurants prepare every day. It’s very easy and your kitchen smells like heaven when you’re making it! Enjoy!
Wishing you and yours a wonderful, happy, healthy holiday season!
Vermicelli Aglio e Olio
A few turns of good olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 can of flat anchovies, undrained
1 small bottle of capers, drained and rinsed
1 pound vermicelli or thin linguine
Pour the olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet. Add the sliced garlic and fry until it is light brown. You need to watch the garlic so it doesn’t get too brown—it will keep cooking after you take it off the burner.
Meanwhile, open the anchovies. Take the skillet off the burner and add the anchovies. With a heavy flat fork mash the anchovies until they become a paste (yes, right there in the frying pan). Mix in thoroughly with the oil. Add the capers. Set the pan aside.
Boil the pasta until al dente. Reserve 2 or 3 cups of the pasta water when you drain the vermicelli.
Pour the vermicelli in the serving dish. Add about 3/4 of a cup of the pasta liquid to the skillet with the garlic anchovy mixture. Mix it all up and pour it on top of the vermicelli. Mix and add more water if needed.
We usually serve the remaining pasta water on the table with the vermicelli in case anyone wants to add it to their dish.