Create a feast of summer fishes

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a much-anticipated holiday tradition for Italian-Americans, traditionally served on Christmas Eve to celebrate La Vigilia, the period of waiting for the Christ child’s birth.

Menus range from simple to over the top, with everything from squid, smelts and shrimp sharing the table with cod, octopus and lobster. The only rule is there has to be at least seven courses, each with a different seafood.

Summer is prime time to source seasonal, responsibly caught seafood like branzino, shrimp and octopus. To whet your appetite, DiAnoia’s Eatery in Pittsburgh’s Strip District is sharing Chef Tyler England’s recipe for Puttanesca Crostini.

Puttanesca is a simple and spicy sauce made with anchovies, olives, tomatoes, capers and garlic. It’s usually served on top of pasta but can also be enjoyed on toasted crostini as a summer appetizer, as it is here, or on crusty sandwich bread for lunch. I know there are rules about cheese and fish, but I think a dusting of grated Parmesan would add a lovely finish.

Puttanesca sauce is much loved because it usually comes together quickly, in less than 30 minutes. This version cooks a bit longer until it is thick and stew-like.

Don’t be afraid of the anchovies in the ingredient list. They melt as they cook and don’t really taste fishy, adding a rich umami that pairs perfectly with tomatoes.

The sauce can be refrigerated in a glass container for up to six days or frozen in a resealable container for up to three months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat in a large saucepan or frying pan until hot.

In this easy appetizer, crostini are topped with puttanesca.

Puttanesca Crostini

PG tested

  • 8 ounces olive oil
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 2-ounce can anchovies fillets in oil, drained
  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 6 ounces pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 2 ounces capers, rinsed
  • 28-ounce can chopped Italian tomatoes, or whole, crushed by hand
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 loaf crusty bread, thinly sliced and toasted

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauce pot, When oil is hot, add garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes. Saute until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. (Anchovies will melt as they cook).

Add chopped olives and capers and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Add canned tomatoes with their juices, stir to combine and then stew the sauce for 90 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. Once stewed it should be pretty thick, and most of the water should evaporate.

Add chopped parsley and check for seasoning; add salt if necessary.

Transfer sauce to a serving bowl and serve with toasted bread.

Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

— Cher Tyler England, DiAnoia’s Eatery, Strip District