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Italian Christmas Eve Feast, On A Budget

It will be the night before Christmas in a few days, so The Early Show Saturday Edition decided to ask its "Chef on a Shoestring" to prepare the traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast with the traditional seven fish.

Indeed, the feast is known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

And the chef who took us up on our challenge to do that on a special, but still slim holiday budget of $80 was Dave Pasternack.

As executive chef and owner of the New York restaurant Esca and co-author of "The Young Man and the Sea: Recipes and Crispy Fish Tales from Esca" (Workman), Dan certainly knows his seafood. He also happens to be an avid fisherman!

"Esca" translates to "bait" in Italian, and is devoted to celebrating the fruits of the sea.

His feast was the next best thing to being in Rome!


  • Baccala Salad
  • Baked Clams
  • Sicilian-Style Swordfish
  • Collard Greens and Cannellini Beans
  • Seafood Linguine
  • Affogato


    Baccala: Baccala is Italian for salted cod. Usually, the salted fish is soaked in water for several days prior to use, changing the water every four-to-five hours to reduce the amount of salt.

    Collard Greens: Long a staple of soul food, collard greens taste like a cross between cabbage and kale, and can be prepared in any manner that's suitable for spinach or cabbage.

    Affogato: An affogato (Italian, "drowned") is a coffee-based beverage or dessert. "Affogato style," which refers to the act of topping a drink or dessert with espresso, may also incorporate caramel sauce or chocolate sauce.


    Baccala Salad

    1 pound boneless Salt Cod, cut into 3-inch cubes
    1 medium yellow onion, cut into a large dice
    1 leek, cut into 3-inch pieces, rinsed thoroughly
    1 stalk celery, cut into 3-inch pieces
    1 bay leaf
    1/2 cup dry white wine
    1 crispy tart apple
    1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
    1/2 pound fingerling potatoes
    4 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley


    Place the cod in a large bowl and add enough water to cover by 3 inches. Refrigerate for 3 days, rinsing and changing the water twice per day. On day 3, give the cod a final rinse and set aside.

    Place the onion, leek, celery, bay leaf and wine in a large pot. Add 3 quarts water and bring to a boil over a high flame. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and discard the vegetables, then return the broth to the pot.

    Set the heat so the aromatic broth is barely simmering. Add the salt cod and slowly poach for 1 to 1½ hours, until the fish is tender and beginning to flake. Remove the pot from the flame, and refrigerate the salt cod in the poaching liquid overnight.

    The next day, remove the salt cod with a slotted spoon and pat the pieces dry with paper towels. Pull off the skin, and then pull out any pinbones that you find. Set aside.

    Peel and dice the apple, giving the diced pieces a squirt of fresh lemon juice so they don't turn brown.

    Place the potatoes in a 2-quart pot and add enough water to cover by at least 3 inches. Bring to a boil over a high flame, salt the water, and cook the potatoes until they are easily pierced with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Drain.

    When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and cut in to 1/3-inch rounds. Place in a mixing bowl along with the apples and scallions.

    Break the salt cod into large flakes into the bowl. Drizzle in the vinegar, olive oil, and pepper to taste, and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt (the saltiness of the Baccala will vary, so taste the mixture before seasoning it.)

    Serve the Baccala at room temperature, garnished with the parsley.

    Baked Clams

    12 little neck clams, shucked, juice reserved
    Extra-virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish
    1 cup bread crumbs
    1 lemon, halved
    Freshly ground black pepper


    Preheat the broiler.

    Spread the clams in their half shells on a baking sheet. Drizzle each with a drop or two of extra-virgin olive oil.

    In a small mixing bowl, combine the horseradish and the bread crumbs. Cover each clam with a hefty pinch of the bread-crumb-horseradish mixture. Lightly pat it down. Cut one of the lemon halves into four wedges. Then use the other half-lemon to put a drop or two of juice on each clam.

    Drizzle the clams lightly with the extra-virgin olive oil and put them under the broiler. Cook for about 6 minutes, drizzling each with the reserved clam juice halfway through, until the bread crumbs are lightly golden and bubbly.

    Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with a little salt and freshly ground pepper, and serve immediately with the lemon wedges alongside.

    For more recipes, please go to Page 2.

    Sicilian-Style Swordfish

    Four 6-ounce swordfish steaks
    Extra-virgin olive oil
    Freshly ground black pepper
    2 cups bread crumbs
    2 lemons, cut into wedges


    Prepare a charcoal fire and heat the grill over it.

    Dry the swordfish steaks with paper towels. Brush them on both sides with extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then dredge in the bread crumbs.

    Place the fish over the medium-hot part of the fire and grill until the bread crumbs turn golden, no less than 5 minutes per side; if they begin to toast too quickly, move the fish to a cooler part of the grill. The cooked swordfish should be golden brown and the flesh should begin to flake when you press it with your finger.

    Serve immediately with wedges of lemon.

    Collard Greens & Cannellini Beans

    3 cloves minced garlic
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 bunches collard greens, trimmed
    1-2 cups water
    1 ham hock (you can ask your local butcher for this)
    1 can of cannellini beans


    Sauté 3 cloves minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until golden brown.

    Add 2 bunches cleaned collard greens along with 1-2 cups water, depending on how much liquid you want. Add ham hock, cover and simmer over medium-low heat until greens are tender. Add salt to taste at the end of the cooking. Stir in the beans and serve hot.

    Seafood Linguine

    1 pound linguine
    1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
    6 ounces pancetta, cut into thin strips
    8 mild dried red, whole
    1/2 pound lobster
    1/2 pound mussels
    1/2 pound shrimp
    1/2 pound scallops
    1/3 cup dry white wine
    1 cup clam juice
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
    1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley


    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook for 1 minute less than the box directions (al dente - the pasta should still have bite to it). Drain in a colander. Toss the pasta in the colander with ¼ cup of the olive oil, and set aside.

    Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 6-quart pot or Dutch oven with a lid over medium-high flame. Add the garlic and pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to take on color, about 4 minutes. Add the chilies and all of the seafood, cover the pot, and cook for about 2½ minutes until shrimp are no longer opaque and mussels have opened. Then add the wine and the clam juice, and replace the lid. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, checking to see when all of the mussels have opened (discard any that don't).

    Add the pasta and season with the ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Add the red pepper flakes. Add the parsley, toss gently to combine, and cook for an additional minute or so to thoroughly reheat the linguine.

    Divide among four bowls, being sure to distribute the seafood equally. Drizzle each bowl with extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt, and some freshly ground black pepper.


    8 cups espresso
    1 pint vanilla ice cream

    Scoop ice cream into eight small coffee cups and pour over hot espresso.

    So, how did Dave do with our $80 budget?

    Baccala Salad:
    salt cod $9.99
    yellow onion .28
    leek $1.99
    celery $1.99
    white wine $4.95
    apple .89
    lemon .67
    fingerling potatoes $2.99
    scallion .79
    parsley .79
    TOTAL = $25.33

    Baked Clams:
    little neck clams $4.29
    horseradish $2.00
    bread crumbs $1.19
    lemon .59
    TOTAL = $8.07

    Sicilian-Style Swordfish:
    Swordfish $10.99
    Lemons .59
    TOTAL = $11.58

    Collard Greens:
    collard greens .99
    cannellini Beans .79
    ham hock $2.29
    TOTAL = $4.07

    Seafood Linguine:
    linguine .99
    pancetta $4.49
    dried red chilies $2.25
    shrimp $4.00
    mussels $1.49
    scallops $3.50
    lobster $7.95
    clam juice $1.29
    garlic .39
    TOTAL = $26.35

    espresso powder $1.99
    gelato or ice cream $1.99
    TOTAL = $3.98

    TOTAL COST = $79.38!

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