Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve: An Italian Baccalà Recipe

December 7, 2022  |  By Peg Kern
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Salt cod at market and ready for a cooking class in ItalyCodfish is a popular dish around the world during the Christmas holiday season, and we often get asked for Christmas Eve cod recipes. In Portugal, it’s a tradition that dates back centuries. In Mexico and Brazil, it also often has a place at the table. And codfish is frequently part of Italy’s Italian Christmas Dinner known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes–a Christmas Eve meal that’s also celebrated by many Italian Americans.

See our cooking vacations in Italy.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes Tradition

Eating fish for Christmas Eve dinner (“la vigilia di natale” in Italian), is a long-standing Catholic tradition and can be found in most Italian households on December 24th. Families will often spend all day – or many days! – preparing a multitude of fish dishes, including Italian baccala recipes like the one featured here. There is no hard and fast rule as to what Italian Christmas fish is served during the feast, only that the meal be free of meat.

Although tradition says that there should be 7 fish dishes served (to represent the 7 sacraments of the Catholic church), some families serve more, and even up to 12 types of Italian Christmas fish dishes in recognition of the 12 apostles. The fish and seafood can often be combined or utilized in stews, soups or pasta dishes.

What Is Baccalà

Baccalà is cod that has been preserved through drying and/or salting the fish. It is sometimes called salt cod or saltfish, and it has been a staple in Europe for many centuries. Knowing how to make baccalà is a key part of any Christmas Eve baccalà recipe, as if you do not properly rinse the fish you will have a salty, inedible dish!

If you’re looking for a simple but delicious cod recipe to serve for your Italian Christmas dinner, try our baccala recipes for Christmas Eve, including this baccalà dish from the kitchen of our Amalfi Coast cooking vacation Mediterranean Cooking Experience. Baccalà is so common in Italy come the Christmas holiday that it’s common to see huge buckets of salted cod being sold in the street in the days leading up to it. Often a hose will be in the bucket too, causing the water used to rinse the salt cod to overflow into the city streets.

Check out a traditional Roman recipe for baccalà.

Before you start making this dish, it’s important to prepare the baccalà.

How to Rinse Baccalà

1. Purchase a big piece of salted baccalà. Soak the fish in fresh water between 48 and 72 hours, and change the water every eight hours or so in order to clean the fish of the salt.
2. Drain the baccalà, and pat it completely dry.
3. Cut the fish into the pieces you plan to serve it.

Baccalà (Salt Cod) with Tomato Sauce Recipe

6 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cook method: simmer

IngredientsItalian baccala dish made during a cooking vacation in Italy

  • 1 large piece of salt cod, soaked and rinsed
  • Black olives, chopped
  • Capers
  • Pinch of oregano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 bunch of cherry tomatoes, approx. 20
  • Salt
  • Fresh basil leaves


1. Wash all the cherry tomatoes, and then cut off the top and cut each of them in half.
2. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
3. To the pan, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, or until the garlic turns fragrant (but not brown). Don’t let the olive oil burn.
4. Add in the tomatoes along with a pinch of salt and basil. Continue to cook this for about 10 minutes so the tomatoes cook and soften. Mash them with a fork.
5. Add more salt, if needed.
6. Next add in the black olives, capers, and a pinch of oregano.
7. At the end of the cooking process, add in the codfish and cook for five more minutes.
8. After it’s done cooking, sprinkle the dish with chopped parsley for some color and then serve along with some crusty bread.

Read about some of our favorite Christmas traditions.

Enjoy! If you decide to make this dish in your home kitchen, feel free to share it with us over on Facebook!

Read about Christmas in the French Alps, including Christmas Eve Dinner.

If you are looking for other traditional Italian Christmas recipes, check out our traditional Christmas Cappelletti, our Panettone recipe, or our recipe for cartellate pastries.

Want to learn even more about holiday dishes? Come visit our chefs in Italy for a taste of what Christmas is like with a cooking vacation.

By Peg Kern

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