Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pesce spada alla ghiotta

I try to be open-minded when I visit my favorite local fish market. Although I might walk in with a plan of buying Manila clams to make a pasta sauce or of picking up a piece of black cod to marinate in miso, I remind myself to take a careful look at what else is in the case and to be flexible.  That’s why a couple of weeks ago I set out for the Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley to buy some scallops, but came home with a beautiful piece of swordfish.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960’s, it seemed to me that every grocery store and seafood restaurant sold swordfish. Then the fish disappeared. I remember hearing about high mercury levels in local catches. Or was it overfished? Whatever the reason(s) swordfish vanished, you can buy it now, but with this caveat: the EPA cautions “women who might become pregnant; women who are pregnant; nursing mothers; (and) young children” against eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel or tilefish, because they contain high levels of mercury.  The EPA writes that “nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels...because they’ve had more time to accumulate it.”

Noting the EPA’s warning (but more than reasonably satisfied that I do not fall in any high-risk group), I arrived home with my swordfish steak.

When I think swordfish, I think Sicily. I pulled an armful of Sicilian cookbooks off my library shelf. I wanted a dish with with tomatoes, olives and capers.  After looking at all of the variations on this theme, I decided to go with a recipe entitled Pesce spada alla ghiotta (translated as Tasty swordfish) from an Italian/English language cookbook called Sicilia in cucina – The flavours of Sicily (2013) from SIME Books. I like this recipe’s absolute simplicity. It takes very little time to make—maybe 30 minutes, tops—and tastes absolutely fantastic: bold yet fresh. Here’s the English version of Pesce spada alla ghiotta, which serves 4.

300 g (10½ oz) swordfish, sliced
200 g (7 oz) potatoes
200 g (7 oz) canned peeled tomatoes
½ onion
green olives, pitted
1 tablespoon desalinated capers
chilli (sic) pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Sauté the chopped onion in plenty of oil and add the olives, desalinated capers, peeled tomatoes, chilli (sic) pepper, salt and pepper.

Cook for 20 minutes.

Add the swordfish and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Boil the potatoes separately. Peel and slice them, then add to the fish. Sprinkle with chopped basil.

I’ll add a few notes to the above. I like to cube the swordfish because I think this helps to keep the fish from getting overcooked and dry. I use about 10 large castelvetrano olives and red-skinned potatoes. If you want to skip the potatoes, I think the swordfish and its sauce work very well with rigatoni. The book’s editor pairs the dish with a 2009 Italian frapatto and nero d’avola blend from Arianna Occhipinti called “SP 68”. Fantastic choice. Paul Marcus Wines in Berkeley often has this hard-to-find red wine, but the shop was currently out of its stock when I dropped in to pick up a bottle (or two…or three). But the shop did have Occhipinti’s frappato, which costs more, but goes wonderfully with Pesce spada alla ghiotta.