Every family has something that they do that is a little different than anyone else during the holidays. My family had a special tradition of making some kind of fish for Christmas and New Year’s. It was supposed to bring in good luck to the house for the whole year. Some people say the same for black eyed peas, pork chops and sauerkraut and even large pretzels. I guess it becomes a matter of where you call home. Though an occasional red snapper might appear with the usual normal dinner spread, mom would normally fry up some smelt. Smelt are easy to find in the Midwest during any time of the year and ‘good luck finger food to go’. The easiest way to make smelt was to have one bowl filled with a beaten egg and another larger bowl mixed with white flour, salt and pepper. If you wanted to get fancier, you can also throw in some bread crumbs and some seasoning salt to the bowl with the flour mix. But basically, just dip the fish in the egg batter, then roll them in the flour mix and toss them in a heated pan of oil on the stove and fry ‘em up for a couple minutes. Let them drain for a bit on a paper towel and that is it-instant munchie. We also kept pickled herring on the table with some crackers. I guess the more fish the better good luck!
But, one fish dish that was my quirky favorite and always brought a smile to my face around the holidays was the spaghetti and sardines. Ok, first—please don’t think of spaghetti and any kind of red sauce. This is not that kind of spaghetti. Second, this dish was also useful throughout the year in between paychecks and my mom always advised that everyone should keep a can of sardines and some spaghetti on hand, especially for those days right before payday. My brother Dennis’s wife Julie caught on to that trick pretty quick and they are still happily married today with two children. So, to us, it was more than a good luck dish, it was a kind of family initiation.
For some who came to Christmas dinner and eyeballed the spaghetti and sardines, there was a slight hesitation. For others, there was a flat out refusal to even try it. Sadly, those members did not quite make it into the family. So, this spaghetti became a ‘check point’ for potential family members and an indication to them of what they may be getting themselves in to.
One year, I brought a boyfriend that I had known in grade school to my family Christmas Eve dinner. We had somehow managed to cross paths even though he had moved from the area, went to a different high school and had already been married with a daughter. But when he came to the Christmas dinner and stood before the spaghetti and sardines, he hesitated. Not a good sign. But, I asked him to give it a try. He momentarily looked like I had just asked him to stand before a firing squad! But, he finally responded with a small spoonful portion on his plate. What was funny to me was that after he ate everything on his plate, he went back for seconds and only took a big helping of the Spaghetti & Sardines. Ah, there was hope for him after all. (Smile.) But unfortunately, it did not have quite the same effect on him for longevity that it had for Julie and Dennis.
So, with all that said, I would simply like to share this recipe in the hope that there is someone out there who may be willing to take the chance on it and my family and our wishes for best of fortune to your households. Simply boil spaghetti as you like it. (Drain it but don’t rinse it!) While the spaghetti is boiling, open up one or two cans of sardines in oil and remove any small bones and the like. Start by adding one can of the cleaned sardines in oil to the drained spaghetti. You can add a little butter for taste and some parmesan cheese to top it off. Mix it up and serve. It is curiously good warm and cold. And, if you try it and you like it, you can endeavor to look me up. (Wink!) You never know, hope may still spring eternal.