This Port St. Lucie Couple Serves The Feast Of The Seven Fishes To Celebrate The Christmas Season
The story of the meal varies. “People say it’s an Italian thing; it’s more of an Italian-American thing,” Jim Brandano explains. “Depending on what part of Italy you come from, the number changes, and the reason changes. In my family, it’s always been the feast of the seven fishes, and the seven stands for the seven stations of the cross.”
The tradition for this grand meal comes from southern Italy, where it is known as “the vigil,” or “la vigilia.” It marks the wait, or “vigilia di natale,” for the birth of the baby Jesus at midnight on Christmas Eve. Those following the Roman Catholic faith abstained from meat on the eve of a feast day—in this case Christmas Day—and would instead eat fish. Jim and his wife, Phyllis, have been hosting the celebration at their Port St. Lucie home each holiday season for the last eight years. The couple, both of whose grandparents came to the United States from Italy, moved to Florida from Massachusetts. They celebrated the feast there each year with Jim’s family and transplanted the tradition with them when they relocated.
That first year the Brandanos welcomed 10 guests, including Jim’s brother, Paul, who also lives in the area. Over the next year, as Jim would be outside, people would walk by and ask about whether they were having the party again. The number of guests increased to 20, then 25, and then 30. It’s allowed the couple to expand their social circle and meet the neighbors. “You see them walking, talking, but you don’t really get to socialize with them, except during these kinds of things,” Phyllis says.
For Jim, a gathering such as this stirs memories of cooking with his “nonna” as a boy. “I remember standing up on a milk carton next to the table, and she would show me how to make different kinds of pasta,” he recalls. Being able to share this tradition has not only allowed me to keep those connections to the past alive, but also forge new friendships and a sense of belonging within a wider community.
The seafood, supplied by New England Fish Market, is the star of the show. Jim is the creative one in the kitchen. He tests and tweaks, coming up with ideas, then changes them when given new inspiration. Phyllis acts as sous-chef, helping with prepping, decorating and clean up. The recipes are a mix of repeating family favorites passed down and collected over the years, and new spins on classic dishes. Each highlights the flavors and freshness of the seafood.
Baked stuffed clams are served each year in honor of Jim’s brother, Peter, who passed away in 2014. The dish, which Peter made each Christmas, is included in a family cookbook, which each of the six Brandano brothers contributed to...