Sicilian swordfish stew – abondanza!

But first…

When I alerted the BDN a while back that I was considering a sojourn away from blogging, or perhaps even a complete retirement from blogging, I kept checking my emails for the words “we have some lovely parting gifts for you…” but that just wasn’t going to happen. I’m kind of partial to lovely parting gifts, the lovelier the better, but I also know the BDN runs a tight ship fiscally, and since I was a bit equivocal about the finality of this blog, they just sat back and waited for my reemergence instead of sending coupons and candies. Smart move, BDN!

But my files of stories about fascinating people and places around the U.S. and elsewhere are getting a little thin and I’m mostly reluctant to fashion total inventions and pass them off as true. Mostly. And I’m more sedentary than I “used to was,” and disinclined to travel very far, unless in someone’s private jet with a wet bar. Accordingly, the journeys steer ever more inward, to other unexplored regions. And back to the stove top with some favorite oldies and newies (below).

Use Life with Caution…

My wife and I went out this snowy morning in our Honda Fit, still without studded snow tires until our mechanic’s appointment Nov. 30, to do some errands, managed to crawl out onto Rte. 73 and started to do some pretty impressive sliding, double axels, whatever. We pulled a rapid u-ey and headed back home. Don’t like waiting another two weeks before the studs are on, but we’re ever faithful to our mechanics.

And you may have seen this video from Nov. 14, of four guys in a raft during that monstrous blow, tossed around by 30-knot winds and 15-foot seas somewhere off Matinicus. The Coast Guard rescued them in their helicopter… but why on earth were they fishing in that weather? I dunno, man…

I just went outside to fetch more firewood from our porch. Glare ice, I started a slide. I’m staying in. Life doesn’t come with an instruction book, nor any computation of the odds that you were born at all. So it’s a rare beast indeed, and needs loving attention. Much of what I like to do with the rest of my life is use it wisely, and with caution.

Cooking usually is not very hazardous. Let’s go to Sicily for this one… a modified repost from some years back.


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. When we had some time ago, well… 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!

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.