Festa dei setta pesci, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American traditional meal with roots in Southern Italy. This festival of lovingly prepared dishes is presented in a myriad of variations in homes on Christmas Eve. While the menu can vary from family to family, the core of the meal is consistent: seven (or more) seafood dishes brimming with the flavors of rich tradition served in present-day style.
Renaissance men and brothers, Adam and Andrew Erace, are no strangers to the joys of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Growing up with parents Francine “Frannie” and Michael, Sunday family dinners were happily mandatory, making the Christmas Eve gathering a natural extension of those weekly meals. Although far more complicated, the intent of gathering kindred spirits to share a meal, remains the same. “The reason we go through the trouble to cook such a complicated meal is twofold,” says Andrew, “first, there is no other night like Christmas Eve for Italian-Americans. I feel it is the holiday that connects us most with our heritage. The second reason is that it brings all of our family and friends together.”
Although the Erace family Christmas Eve feast is anything but simple, Frannie’s thoughts on the day-to-day family meal are straightforward: “You don’t have to have a lavish dinner to sit down together as a family.” When her mother (Adam and Andrew’s grandmother) used to host the meal, Frannie’s side of the family would make up the entire guest list. But, since Frannie and Michael took over as hosts, guests come from both sides of the family and beyond to enjoy the festivities. “We’re drinking Meletti Anisette and our great aunt loves for us to make her scotch cocktails,” says Adam. “We host for roughly 30 people,” Andrew adds. “Having all of those people under one roof, combined with the abundance of food, makes for a truly special night.”
The ritual of serving familiar dishes on the holiday table, such as Frannie’s beloved Crabs and Macaroni, is comforting and evokes intimate memories. “It is something that we have down the shore in the summertime and on Christmas Eve,” says Adam. “Limiting the dish to those two occasions keeps it really special.” The Eraces keep the menu fresh by adding new recipes into the mix. Adam’s Roasted Oysters has become a crowd favorite. “The oyster recipe is something I created one year when I was on a quest to do something not so traditional,” he says. Complemented by a lush and fragrant compound butter, the oysters are a welcome addition to a table marked by pasta dishes and fried fish.
Within the last decade, Adam and Andrew took a keen interest in how local, organic, and gourmet provisions were being offered (or not offered) to their South Philly neighbors. Armed with interest in real estate rejuvenation, a sincere passion for good food and inspiration to make a change, the Eraces established Green Aisle Grocery in 2009. Green Aisle’s now trio of locations in Philadelphia — East Passyunk, Graduate Hospital and Fishtown — cater to foodies who want sustainable, boutique, small-batch brands that are meticulously sourced by the Eraces themselves. In addition to supplying the brands of various vendors, Green Aisle also shelves Adam and Andrew’s own line of bespoke jams, chutneys, pickles, preserves, marmalades, and even non-food items such as soaps and room sprays. Green Aisle’s goal? “To make really good, local food available to people in our neighborhood. We like to eat a certain way and want to replicate that with what’s on the shelves,” says Adam.
Call it compatibility in the business world, but it’s la famiglia at home. The Eraces’ Feast of the Seven Fishes is an extension of the deeply-woven ancestral thread of togetherness. “By continuing the Feast of the Seven Fishes, we are helping to keep something very Italian alive, that our grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents have carried through the generations,” says Andrew. “We have modernized it a bit, but the roots are still in place: family, celebration and a ridiculous amount of food.” Video by Al Green, Photos by Nicholas Gang, Rachel Bowman, and Cathie Berrey-Green
Video by Al Green, Photos by Nicholas Gang, Rachel Bowman, and Cathie Berrey-Green