The Primo course, or “First” course of the Feast of the Seven Fishes finally sees everyone gather around the table. It could well have been an hour or longer since everyone began arriving for the Antipasti at this point, but now it is time to sit at the table or tables and begin literally eating together.
The Primo is based heavily around pastas, especially for the Feast of the Seven Fishes and our family’s method of preparing them. We have at least two and more often three different pastas for the table – a clam sauce, a dish that changes on the mood of the year, and baked creamy stuffed pasta. We usually try to have the third, rotating pasta, be a red sauce of some kind ranging from a red clam sauce, to a mussel based sauce, or even a Sicilian red sauce with mixed seafood.
This is a classic pasta dish, and I have previously described my recipe for it on Southern Ash. I admit that part of my love for this dish comes from Christmas Eve and the Seven Fishes. There isn’t much variation in that dish on Christmas Eve from what I have already posted, so I will spare you the repetition here.
Tricolor Stuffed Shells
These shells are stuffed with salmon and drenched in a beciamella sauce and a favorite every year. The shells are usually colored with green and red food colorings to make the Italian flag in this course as well. Finding colored shells to purchase can be difficult, but you can make it from scratch as well. When coloring homemade pasta you can use either food coloring or add in ingredients like tomato paste or spinach to the pasta for the colors.
For the Pasta
- 375 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- Red & Green food coloring or 1TBSP tomato paste and 2TBSP pureed spinach
For the Sauce
- 4TBSP Unsalted butter
- ¼ Cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 Cups milk (Preferably whole), hot
- Pinch of salt
- 1 Cup Parmagiana Reggiano
For the Filling
- 1 Onion, chopped or diced
- 2 TBSP Olive Oil
- 1Lb Minced or cubed salmon
- 2 Sage leaves
- 2 Sprigs of Marjoram
- 1 tsp thyme, minced
- ½ Cup Dry White Wine
- 1/2lb Ricotta
- 1 Egg
- ¼ Cup Parmagiano Reggiano
Make the pasta in three different batches – one normal, one red, and one green
- Combine one cup of the flour with a pinch, or ¼ teaspoon of salt, in a bowl or making a mound on your work space.
- Beat one egg in a small bowl adding the tomato paste or spinach puree (or food coloring) for the appropriate pasta.
- Put the egg (and coloring) in the middle of the flour and slowly incorporate as much flour into the egg as possible until it forms a shaggy dough.
- Knead the shaggy dough until it becomes smooth, about ~8 minutes
- Wrap in plastic and set aside while making the filling and sauce
Assemble the entire dish
- With a little olive oil in a large pan, cook the chopped onion until translucent
- Add the salmon, sage, marjoram, salt, and pepper
- Cook on medium low for about 15 minutes before adding the wine.
- Cook another 20 minutes on medium-low to medium just getting a simmer
- Remove the sage and marjoram if using fresh whole herbs and puree the mixture to a level of smoothness you prefer
- Mix the salmon goodness with the ricotta, egg, thyme, and 1 Cup of the Parmagiana Reggiano
- Unwrap the pasta and roll it out, with a pleasant dusting of flour to prevent it from sticking, either by hand or with a machine (I certainly prefer with a machine because you can control the thickness and width much more easily)
- Spoon the filling evenly down the center of each sheet of pasta and then roll the sheet of asta into a tasty creamy salmon stuffed log
- Cut the logs on a bias, that is diagonal while the sauce comes together.
- Preheat the oven to 375 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Melt 2TBSP of butter in a saucepan
- Whisk in the ¼ Cup of flour until well combined
- Add the warm milk slowly and the salt, still whisking
- Increase the heat and let boil gently for 10 minutes to thicken being careful not to scald or burn the sauce.
- Like a lasagna or other baked pasta, put a little of sauce down in an oven proof container before adding the pasta.
- Top the pasta with the remaining sauce, dabs of the remaining butter, and whatever cheese you have not yet used.
- Bake for ~30 to 35 minutes
This plate for the Primo is one we tend to change every year. We have not settled on a single option that is an overwhelming favorite. The only real tradition is that it is always a tomato based sauce. I really like the option of a seafood puttanesca because it provides a sharp flavor contrast and it is a “clean up the kitchen” sort of sauce. The ingredients can easily include a little extra from other dishes – shrimp from the Tasty Shrimp in the Antipasti, clams from the White Clam Sauce above, fish trimmings from the cod in the Secondi, and so forth. The rest of the ingredients for a puttanesca are probably already on hand making this one of the simplest choices for the dinner.
- 1lb Pasta, preferably buccatini or other thicker noodle for contrast with the flat linguini or thin spaghetti
- 3TBSP Olive Oil
- 14oz Tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
- 2 cloves Garlic, minced or chopped
- 3-4 Anchovy fillets
- 1tsp Red Pepper flakes, or more to taste
- 1TBSP Capers
- 1 Cup pitted black olives
- 1/2lb or more of assorted seafood
- While bringing the pasta water to a boil, place a large pan over medium heat and add the olive oil
- When the oil begins to shimmer, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring occasionally
- After 2-3 minutes, add the anchovies and stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon until completely broken up. About 3-4 minutes.
- Add the capers, olives, and tomatoes, stirring occasionally, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the seafood, with the option of searing off any pieces ahead of time.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water, just a few minutes short of the package instructions.
- Add the almost cooked pasta to the sauce and turn it over in the pan to combine.
- Cook another 2-3 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. If the sauce has reduced too far, add some of the pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time until at your preferred consistency.
- Garish with parsley and serve
One of the greatest tricks of wine pairings is that the wine of a region is naturally matched with the food from that region. Cuisine and viticulture grow together, so the easiest way to pair wines with a meal is to look to the food that you are serving and find a wine that matches it. In Italy, wine is omnipresent and part of a meal in ways it never reached in the United States. For many of these dishes that have their roots in Southern Italy, Southern Italian wines pair best. For example, a light bodied red with some high notes of spicy and fruit is found using the negromaro grape that is prevalent in Puglia. We have been fortunate in Arkansas to have several options in stores. Frequently, this is the red we look to when setting up the dinner:
Salice Salento is likely the best known negromaro blend wine you find in the United States and it serves this purpose with aplomb. If you don’t have ready access to Pugliese wines, another option is to look to Spain and a Tempranillo, or Tempranillo based blended wine. Tempranillo has similar characteristics, in light body and forward spicy, with a similar growing climate.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes
Seven Fishes – Antipasti e appertivo
Seven Fishes – I secondi e contorni
Seven Fishes – Dolce e digestivi