For me, one of the most attractive characteristics of Italian cooking has always been its simplicity–its recipes with minimal ingredients and simple preparation. As I child, I used to watch my mother and aunt in the kitchen turn out multi-course dinners for us, night after night, without breaking a sweat. They cooked from memory the simple dishes with which they themselves grew up. One such dish was baked fish coated with breadcrumbs, which hailed from my mother’s Sicilian family.
Yesterday, when I came home from the fish market with some beautifully fresh swordfish, I thought I would try to recreate my mother’s dish and started looking for a recipe.
My search led me to one from Arthur Schwartz’s The Southern Italian Table: “Pesce Spada Impanata,” or Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style. Thin cutlets of swordfish are coated with seasoned bread crumbs and quickly baked. The savory, garlicky coating perfectly complements the subtly sweet, meaty flavors of the swordfish.
I served the fish accompanied by another of my mother’s favorites, string beans sautéed with garlic and oil.
Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style from The Southern Italian Table
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon roughly ground fennel seed
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound swordfish, cut into 1/4 inch thick cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place a rack on the highest rung of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450° F. (The position of the rack is important as it allows for a faster baking of the fish and the browning of the crumbs. RM)
Combine the breadcrumbs, salt, fennel seed, garlic, parsley, and 1 tablespoon of the oil on a large plate. Mix until all the bread crumbs are moistened with oil. (My breadcrumbs were quite dry and I needed to add a little more than the called-for tablespoon. RM)
Brush the fish slices lightly with the remaining tablespoon of oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Dredge each slice in the seasoned bread crumbs, pressing the crumbs into the fish so that each side is well coated. Arrange the fish slices on a baking sheet.
Bake the fish for 5 to 6 minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges.
My Note: Be sure to have your rack on the highest rung possible of your oven and to use a baking sheet without sides as opposed to a sheet pan with sides. Doing so will help the breading get more color. I did not have a baking sheet and had to put the fish under the broiler for the final minute or so to lightly brown the crumbs.
Wine Pairing: Grillo, un-oaked Chardonnay