Growing up as a first-generation Italian, I regarded food not only as nourishment but also as a link to the flavors and traditions of my forebears. In fact, that strong ethnic bond has motivated much of my cooking over the last 50 years. And while the cuisines of other countries have always intrigued me, none has inspired me more than Italian. Whenever I’m in the kitchen, memories of my Sicilian mother or Neapolitan aunt at the stove or of my family around the dinner table come to mind.
Recently, I had one such recollection while I was preparing the pasta dish that is the subject of this post, Christmas Eve Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. As a child, I hated anchovies. The way they looked—dark, shriveled, when packed in salt or rusty and slimy when tinned in oil— totally turned me off even before tasting them. “Yuck,” I would say out of earshot. But I was forced to eat or, at least, try them every time they appeared in one of the dishes on the table. When I would resist, my father would say: “They’re an acquired taste; you’ll eventually grow to like them.” It may have taken some time before the acquisition, but, as usual, my father was correct.
An old favorite found its way to our table this weekend, Chicken Thighs, with Saffron, Green Olives and Mint. I had forgotten how good this dish is with its sweet and savory onions, tangy olives, and whiffs of saffron and fresh mint. The long cooking time, actually a braise, renders chicken thighs with meat that falls of the bone and a rich sauce just waiting to be sopped up by couscous. The saffron and mint lead me to believe the origins of the dish are Sicilian, or perhaps even Moroccan.
Discovery. Isn’t that what the world-wide web is all about? Spurred on by curiosity, we follow threads of information only to find new threads and thereby broaden our knowledge of almost any subject, and then perhaps begin another thread.
This often is the case for me when I read a comment left by another food writer on a blog that I follow and am then led to that blogger’s website. Indeed, this is how I found the recipe for today’s post. I read a comment about Marcella Hazan by Stefano Arturi on Diane Darrow’s blog Another Year in Recipes, which brought me to his own blog, Italian Home Cooking.
When I saw this recipe in last month’s Bon Appetit magazine, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I’d make it. What most attracted me to it were the golden raisins and pine nuts, ingredients that, when paired with swordfish, whispered my mother’s native Sicily.
Finding a great piece of swordfish and some beautiful hot-house cherry tomatoes at the market yesterday reminded me of the recipe and so here it is. I followed all of the instructions but toasted the pine nuts ahead of time. I also decided to add some of the raisins and pine nuts to the sauce rather than sprinkling all of them on at the end. My only cautionary note would be to hold off on adding the 1/2 cup of pasta water at the end. Wait until you’ve almost finished tossing the pasta with the sauce. A tablespoon or two might be enough.
Pasta with Swordfish and Cherry Tomato Sauce from Bon Appetit August 2015
Ingredients (Serves 4)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 for the sauce; 1 for the swordfish)
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
4 garlic cloves, sliced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound 1-inch-thick swordfish steaks
2 tablespoons pine nuts
12 ounces casarecce or other short pasta (I used strozzapreti)
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
2 tablespoons golden raisins
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook anchovies, garlic, and red
pepper flakes, stirring occasionally, until anchovies disintegrate, about 3 minutes.
Add half of tomatoes; season with salt and pepper.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 12–15 minutes. Add remaining tomatoes; remove from heat.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Season fish
with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown and just cooked through, about 4
minutes per side. Let cool slightly. Coarsely flake flesh; discard skin. (You may also want to remove the dark blood lines.)
Toast nuts in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing often, until golden
brown, about 4 minutes. Let cool.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Add pasta and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to tomato sauce and cook over low heat,
tossing often and adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce is thickened
and coats pasta. Add fish to pasta along with half of parsley and toss once to
Serve pasta topped with raisins, pine nuts, and remaining parsley.
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.