Pisci Spada alla Messinese – swordfish stewed wth tomatoes, potatoes, olives and capers
This is an unusually rich fish stew for Sicilians, who usually prepare their food with simple, clean ingredients. And it takes a bit of work and serious focus. But then, Sicilians have time to cook — they work till around 1 PM, shutter their shops till about 4 PM, go back to work until around 6, then start cooking so they can eat by 9 PM. They have the time and the cultural need to cook long and well. And this has to be one of their prize seafood dishes. We had it last night – yowzer!
Focus is the key word here. When you’re preparing this, you’ll want to keep everyone out of the kitchen. You will not talk to anyone. You will not be in the middle of a Scrabble game or playing Angry Birds or Tetris. You will not have fantasies of long lost loves or chucking the whole recipe and escaping to the Park Street Grille. You will be cooking, and trying mightily to get it right.
Trust me – you will! This is adapted from a recipe in Ciao, Sicily.
You’ll need (for 2-4 people, depending on their appetites):
- 1/4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – too thick for this)
- 1 red or yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
- 2 smallish yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2″ cubes
- 2-3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp. fresh sage, chopped (we have sage in our greenhouse, still growing!)
- 1 tbsp. capers, rinsed of brine, chopped
- 1/4 cup pitted green olives, also rinsed, chopped
- 2 cups crushed Italian tomatoes
- 2 cups white wine (yes! 2 cups!)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- water, as needed (we didn’t need any)
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 lbs. swordfish steaks, cut into 1″ cubes (we bought 4 pieces of frozen swordfish from Hannaford – it’s flash frozen at sea and very tasty – as good as fresh)
- fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish (we ended up using dried parsley flakes, not a big deal)
What to do…
Cooking this happens in stages. Watch the clock or the timer!
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute gently for 2 minutes over medium heat.
- Now add the diced potatoes and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently with a spatula.
- Add garlic, sage, capers, olives, and tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Now add the wine, lemon juice, and black pepper and stir. Cover the skillet and simmer for about 20 minutes. The liquid should gradually reduce so that you have a sauce with some body to it.
- Season the chunks of swordfish with pepper and add to the skillet. If the sauce is too watery, leave the cover off; otherwise, keep it on but with venting space. Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes.
- Bring the skillet or a large platter to the table. Sprinkle with the parsley. Serve family style.
One modification we made: Ciao, Sicily asks you to add salt. We did, and it was, well, salty. The capers, olives, and fish itself have plenty of salt in them so next time we’ll skip it.
Awfully darn good!
At some point this spring or summer, I’ll be doing a book signing at the Rockland Public Library, with all profits from sales to benefit the library. The library thinks it would be a fun idea for me to include, in some way, my hobby as a crossword puzzle constructor for The New York Times, and maybe even talk about what’s involved in making a puzzle. Well, I see myself primarily as a novelist, and a puzzle maker third or fourth or ninth, and I’m feeling some trepidation that someone might ask me something like this:
What do writing novels and making crosswords have in common?
Nothing. Nada. Niente (Italian). Nichivo (Russian). Oy. Don’t know where to start to elaborate on the basic sense of nothing. Except… well, they both take you into different worlds far outside of yourself where you can’t talk to anyone or be interrupted or, when you do speak, it’s in a blithering jumble of unrelated thoughts. And… they both have to do with words coming together in a structure that imposes its own set of rules on you. And maybe a few other things, but otherwise, nada.
Hope no one asks that. In the meantime, please visit my website and have a reading or two. Thanks!
Ta ta for now.