Recreate The Festival Cucina At Home This Christmas Eve

wooden spoon stirring ingredients in a pan on the stove


The Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival is a reunion of sorts. Italian or not, everyone is treated like family. And like any good family, food is a way to show love.

Think about it. Some of your fondest memories and funniest stories happen around food. That’s why the annual Festival Cucina cooking school is highly anticipated.

The cooking school is held the Friday night before the outdoor Saturday street festival.

We love getting a glimpse into other people’s lives. Or in this case their kitchens. So not only do you get to see how some family favorites are prepared, the chefs talk about their family traditions (and sometimes dysfunction) around celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes during Christmas Eve.

So if you missed this year’s Festival Cucina, here are the recipes that were prepared. Sorry, stories not included.


Festival Cucina

Festival Cucina


Check out last year’s cooking school that aired on WDTV – Channel 5.


Seafood Salad – Robert Germano

29 ounces canned scungilli (sliced conch)

24 ounces calamari rings (uncooked, frozen)

16 ounces shrimp (cooked, frozen)

5 pieces celery stalks (sliced bite sized)

6 ounces black olives (small, pitted and halved)

2 handfuls capers (salted and rinsed)

1 clove garlic ( minced)

15 sprigs fresh parsley (chopped)

3 lemons

1 ounce extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 dash crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Defrost and rinse calamari. Cook in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove from boiling water and rinse under cold water. Drain.

2. Defrost and remove tail shells from shrimp.

3. Rinse and drain scungilli.

4. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Add juice of two squeezed lemons and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss salad.

5. Refrigerate for a minimum of an hour, maximum of overnight, stirring frequently to marinate salad.

Serve in small dishes or bowls with lemon wedges.


Lentil soup


Abruzzo Lentil Soup – Shannon Colaianni Tinnell

1 pound of green or brown dried lentils

¼ teaspoon  saffron threads*

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional if needed

3 large cloves minced garlic

3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 medium onion, finely diced

3 rib celery, finely diced

1 fresh bay leaf

Chopped fresh parsley

½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

6 cups water or stock, plus more if needed

Dried red pepper flakes

Cook’s remarks:  If you choose to make your own stock, do that first. For this soup, I am cheating as it is not meat-free – I am roasting some pork bones and vegetables to make my stock. A chicken carcass or a ham bone also work nicely. I also keep Better Than Bouillon in the fridge for a quick stock. You can get it in beef, chicken , turkey or a vegetable concentrate and it is very good. Box stock is handy and a good choice, but can be high in sodium.  If, however, you want to be correct on Christmas Eve use vegetable stock.

Lentils do not technically need to be soaked, but I do soak them in cold water for at least a half hour. I grew up soaking beans and old habits are hard to break. Some people do soak overnight if using a mixture of lentils.


In a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, and celery, and sauté for 5 minutes then add the garlic and cook until the vegetables are soften and the onions and garlic lightly browned.

Add the lentils, six cups of stock, bay leaf, parsley, red pepper flakes and saffron.

Sprinkle in the salt and a generous grinding of pepper and stir gently.

Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover partially. Let the soup simmer gently, stirring from time to time, for 30-45 minutes or until the lentils are tender but not collapsing. Discard the bay leaf. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from heat and add red wine vinegar.

Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle each serving with a little olive oil.

*Turmeric can be used as a substitute for saffron. But use sparingly because its acrid flavor can easily overwhelm the dish.


Bob and Shannon Tinnell

Bob and Shannon Tinnell


Bottarga Crostini – Shannon Colaianni Tinnell

1 baguette (8 to 10 ounces) sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 30-40 slices)

1/2 cup olive oil or butter

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Softened butter

Bottarga (delicacy of salted, cured fish roe)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a heavy small skillet over medium heat. Arrange the bread slices on a large baking sheet. Brush with the butter mixture. Bake until golden about 10 min.

Either make a Bottarga butter by letting the butter come to room temperature and then shaving some of the Bottarga into the butter mixture or just butter the crostini after cooled and shave Bottarga on top.

Bottarga also make a good Olio Pasta.


Branzini Crudo – MK Ohlinger

2 oz fresh sashimi grade Mediterranean Sea Bass ( Branzino ) per person.
Top quality olive oil
Sea salt shallots
Fresh thyme

Slice fish into paper thin portions. Lay out in a glass casserole dish. Dice shallots, and combine shallots, thyme, and limoncello separately in a glass bowl. Pour over fish and let set at room temperature for half an hour. Drain and arrange in a fresh glass casserole dish. Cover with olive oil and let set for half an hour in refrigerator. Remove from oil, arrange on serving plate or platter, and top with sea salt.



Crispy Deep-Fried Polenta – Joel brown

Cooking Remarks: The best way to stir this polenta during simmering is to alternate between whisk and wooden spoon: use a whisk to bring the cornmeal slurry up to its first wave of thickening and to prevent possible lumps down the road, and then use a wooden spoon to ensure that the bottom of the pan stays smooth, with no stickage.

Olive oil for the greasing baking dish
6-7 cups of water
9 ounces (11⁄2 cups) coarse rustic polenta
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
About 2-1⁄2 quarts peanut oil
1.  Brush an half sheet pan with olive oil and set it aside. Bring about 1 cup of water to a boil in a teakettle and remove from the heat.

2. Place the polenta and 6 cups of  water in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly until the first starch takes hold, 5 to 8 minutes. Turn down the heat to a low setting, position the pot lid so that it is slightly ajar, and cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are soft but thick enough to hold their shape on a spoon, about 45 minutes. If the polenta becomes thick before the grains are tender, return the water in the kettle to a boil, whisk in about d cup of water, and continue to cook. When the polenta is finished, whisk in the salt, pepper, and butter.

3. Turn the polenta into the prepared baking dish and smooth the surface with an offset spatula or spoon. Cover flush with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.

4. Cover a cutting board with parchment paper. Run a small offset spatula between the baking pan and the polenta on all four sides, pressing the spatula against the sides of the dish in order to not mar or slice into the polenta. Invert the dish onto the cutting board and lift off the dish. If the polenta does not immediately release, place a hot, wet towel against the bottom (momentarily the top) of the baking dish to loosen the polenta, and then remove the dish. Using a chef’s knife, cut polenta into desired shape. Pat the polenta wedges dry on all sides with paper towels.

5. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and slide it onto the oven rack. Line a second rimmed baking sheet with a triple thickness of paper toweling and set it to the side of the stove.

6. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (preferably enameled cast iron); it should come to a depth of about 4 inches. Warm the oil over medium-high heat until it registers 400 degrees on an instant-read or deep-fry thermometer. Slide 4 polenta into the hot oil, raise the heat to high to compensate for a drop in temperature when the polenta goes in, and check the temperature periodically to make sure it is maintained. Fry the polenta until it is deeply burnished on all surfaces, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a wire skimmer, transfer the polenta to the paper towel–lined baking sheet. Drain well, and then use a metal spatula to transfer the pieces to the baking sheet in the oven. Allow the oil to come back up to temperature before frying the remaining polenta. Drain them on the paper towel–lined baking sheet when they are done. Serve hot.


Joel Brown

Joel Brown


Rustic Piperade – Joel Brown
Cooks Remarks: Dried piment d’Espelette is produced from an eponymous small red Basque pepper. It has a fruity, sweet taste with a touch of heat and tobacco in the back, all of which offset the piperade most favorably. You may purchase dried piment d’Espelette on Amazon or at Oliviers & Co.

2 pounds red bell peppers
12 ounces ripe plum tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin lengthwise
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon piment d’Espelette
1 small bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions 1. Adjust the oven rack so that it is positioned about 3 inches from the broiler. Heat the broiler.

2. With a chef’s knife, lob off the top and bottom of each pepper and cut it in half lengthwise; discard the tops and bottoms. Use a paring knife to trim the ribs from each half and remove the core. Lay each pepper half skin side up and press on it with your palm to flatten it. Arrange the flattened pepper pieces in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.

3. Broil the peppers until the skins are bubbled and blackened, 5 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through; the cooking time will depend on the intensity of the broiler, so monitor closely. Meanwhile, core the tomatoes, cut each one in half lengthwise, and push out the seeds with your fingers. When the peppers are ready, immediately transfer them to a medium bowl and cover tightly so that they steam and the skins loosen. Set the tomato halves cut side down on the now-empty baking sheet and broil until the skins are charred and loosened, about 5 minutes, rotating the baking sheet about halfway through. Let cool on the baking sheet.

4. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel and discard the skins. If your peppers are very long, cut each piece in half crosswise, and then cut into d-inch-wide strips. Peel the tomatoes and dice them finely. Put the diced tomatoes into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl to allow excess juice to drain off.

5. In an 11-inch sauté pan (or similarly sized skillet) over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and d teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the onion is fully softened but not browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, piment d’Espelette and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is no longer raw, about 2 minutes. Add the roasted peppers, the drained tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the tomato juice, the bay leaf, h teaspoon salt, and d teaspoon of pepper and stir until well combined. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, and then turn down the heat to medium- low to maintain a gentle bubbling action. Cover partially and cook until the flavors have melded and much of the moisture has cooked off, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning, remove and discard the bay leaf, and stir in the parsley. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. (Piperade can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in an airtight container; reheat gently before serving.)


Our Classic Marinara Pasta – Isabella Tinnell

1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
2 large cans tomato sauce
3 minced carrots
1 minced onion
1 stalk minced celery
Fresh parsley
Fresh basil if available
Hot pepper flakes

This classic sauce is a staple in our home and can be used for a variety of other dishes – meat sauce, veggie sauce, baccala, stuffed calamari, linguine with clams, and so on.

In a food processor add carrots, celery,onion and garlic and chop. Heat oil on medium low heat in skillet. Add chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic to oil and cook until the tender – do NOT let it burn. Add two cans of sauce into the pan. Then add salt and pepper and hot pepper flakes – this is a “feel” thing. Don’t go crazy at first – after the sauce has cooked you can always add more to taste. Lower heat and simmer at least an hour – stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn. Chop up the fresh herbs and add at the end of cooking – they’ll lose flavor if you add too soon.

In a large stock pot bring water to a rapid boil. Salt until it tastes like the sea. Cook pasta according to the directions on the box minus a minute if you want it al dente. Save some of the pasta water and add it a little at a time to the sauce. Toss pasta in sauce over med heat for a minute or two.


Pasta Bucatini con le gambe de granchio in una sause rosso
Bucatini with Snow Crab legs in red Sauce – Vince Libonati
In Italian tradition the night before Christmas is a meatless meal, it’s known as the night of the seven fishes. This traditional spicy Southern Italian seafood pasta dish. While the traditional recipe calls for whole crabs, it works equally well with king or snow crab legs.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil – plus extra to drizzle
2 Tbsp softened butter
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes or, to taste
½ tsp coarse  kosher or sea salt or, to taste
¼ tsp  freshly ground black pepper or, to taste
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
2× 28 oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained and hand crushed
4 large Blue Crabs or 1-2 Lb thawed frozen King Crab (Snow Crab) Legs, cut into 3″ pieces
1 lb Lump Crab meat
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 lb dry spaghetti or Bucatini
½ cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Create the spicy tomato sauce:
In a large pot over medium high heat, bring the olive oil to the ripple stage and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, but do not allow it to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, basil, parsley and tomatoes with their juices. Stir to combine the ingredients and allow to come to a simmer. Increase the heat to high, add the crabs and bring to a boil. As the sauce comes to a boil, lower the heat to achieve a gentle simmer, then stir in the tomato paste and the red wine and cook the sauce and crabs for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the crabs to a serving bowl and keep warm in a 150 degree oven. If there are large chunks of tomato in the sauce and that is not to taste, crush them using a potato masher to achieve the preferred consistency. (Unlike Americans, Italians prefer their tomato sauce to be slightly chunky.) Add the lump crab meat, stirring to distribute and allow the sauce to continue simmering for an additional 15 minutes until the crab meat is cooked through. Reduce the heat under the sauce to low to keep warm.

Cook the pasta:
Bring a large spaghetti pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 10-12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

Helpful Tips:
Real Italians do not use cheese as an accompaniment with seafood pasta sauces.


Zuccotto – Kristy Tinnell Martin

Zuccotto is a versatile dessert!  There are many ways to prepare it and infinite ways to flavor it.  These directions are more assembly instructions than a true recipe.

1 sponge cake (prepared or store bought OR ladyfingers)
1/4 cup amaretto
1/4 cup light rum
1 1/3 cups whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
Assorted mix-ins: chocolate chips, berries, toasted almonds, toasted hazelnuts, pistachios)
1/4 cup cocoa powder (optional)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate; grated

Sponge Cake
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 11 x 15 baking/jellyroll pan with a light spritz of Pam. Fit with waxed paper and spray with cooking Pam again. Whip eggs, sugar, vanilla and water until light.Mix in dry ingredients. Pour thin batter onto sheet.Bake until sponge is golden and springs to the touch.

1. Cut 4-inch circle from cake. Cut remaining cake into 1-inch strips.
2. Mix together amaretto and rum and sprinkle over cake.
3.Line large bowl with waxed paper. Butter waxed paper.
4. Place cake circle on bottom of bowl. Line side of bowl with three-fourths of the cake pieces.
5. Beat together whipping cream and powdered sugar in chilled medium bowl until stiff. Fold in add ins.
6. Spoon filling into cake-lined bowl. Place remaining cake pieces on filling. Cover and refrigerate 3- 24 hours.
7. Invert onto serving plate.
8. Remove bowl and waxed paper.
9. Mix together the powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a bowl.  Spread it over the Zuccotto by sieving it, creating a dusting.
Sprinkle with additional grated chocolate if desired



Robert Germano at Festival Cucina

Robert Germano at Festival Cucina



How did this festival come to be? This Fairmont festival was born when Marion County native Robert Tinnell, writer and filmmaker, wrote his 2005 graphic novel based on his family’s experience of celebrating this Christmas Eve tradition.


Which Festival Cucina dish are you most excited to try?



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