11.24.2018

The Fishmonger

Too often, in our recent travels to Italy, we have done most of our food shopping in supermarket-style shops - most often, the COOP chain got our business, although in Sicily we used the Simply markets.

It’s sad because we miss out on one of our favorite shopping experiences: the open-air farmers markets. Meat from a macelleria. Bread from a paneficio. Fruits and vegetables from a fruttivendolo. And, of course, fish and seafood from the pescivendolo.

The truth is that some supermarkets do have excellent butchers, fishmongers, and bakers. One-stop shopping may be a time saver, but there is still something seriously lacking in the experience.

Trecastagni, Sicily - half an hour north of Catania in the foothills of Mount Etna - was our home for the week, and also home to a locally-known fish market next door to the supermarket (which didn't sell fish). The motto of Pescheria Benefish is: "Il piacere di mangiare bene tutti i giorni." (The pleasure of eating well every day.)

Pescheria Benefish in Trecastagni.
It made me happy to shop there. And I am happy to eat well every day!

We walked in to find three older men catching up on the day’s news. After exchanging our “buon giornos” and other pleasantries with them, the fish monger - one of the three – asked, across his display of sparkling fish on ice, how he could help us.

The fish market in Catania - a spectacular spectacle!
I told him I needed 16 very thin slices of pesce spada (swordfish) to make involtini.

Our wonderful Villa Edera in Trecastagni.
He looked me up and down and, I am sure, thought, “This American dude has no idea what he is getting in to.” He walked us to the freezer section and took out a tray of pre-prepared involtini di pesce spada.

More scenes from Villa Edera, and a cena al aperto... never "al fresco!"
“No,” I said politely, “I want to make them myself.” His eyes widened and he asked, “Davvero?” Truly? “Si.”

A night at the Opera - Bellini's Adelson e Salvini in the Bellini Opera House.
So he set to slicing. I found myself observing an artist. With his extremely sharp knife and decades of experience, he cut 16 uniformly thin, beautiful slices for me.

The Benedictine Monastery.
While he sliced, we chatted, and his friends joined in to tell us about their favorite fish. We saw many kinds of fish there, even flying fish, as well as squid, octopus, and shrimp. The freshness was astounding - eyes so clear and bright, and no fishy smell at all.

I made the involtini twice while we were in Sicily and tried two different variations on the stuffing. There are countless versions, each with its own merits. But this was my favorite of the two I made. You can find another version on my friend Frank’s site, Memorie di Angelina. (He was in Sicily just before us.)

Il Duomo di Catania    Il Cattedrale di Sant'Agata. 
I have also made this post a bit of a showcase for Catania, the first of three cities where we stayed in Sicilia. I hope you enjoy the photos!

~ David

Involtini di Pesce Spada

2 cups fresh bread crumbs
olive oil
24 ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
24 black olives, chopped
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 bunch parsley, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
finely grated zest of two oranges
salt
toothpicks
16 very thin slices swordfish, skin removed


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs in a skillet and drizzle with oil. Mix well, and place over medium heat, stirring until golden. Remove to a plate and let cool. Set aside.

Mix remaining breadcrumbs with the tomatoes, olives, capers, pine nuts, parsley, red pepper flakes, and orange zest. Drizzle with oil and mix well. You want enough oil so that, when the mixture is squeezed, it holds together in a clump. Set aside.

Set out the swordfish slices and have toothpicks ready. Take a small fistful of the filling - a couple of tablespoons - and squeeze it into a log shape. Place it at the narrow end of a swordfish slice, and then roll it up, and secure with a toothpick. Repeat with the other 15 slices of swordfish.

Line a roasting pan with parchment. If there is any leftover filling, spread it over the parchment as a base for the involtini. Place the swordfish rolls in the pan and drizzle lightly with oil. Sprinkle the reserved golden breadcrumbs over the top.

Bake for 13-15 minutes. Serve hot with an arugula salad, and some of the leftover stuffing, if desired.

Serves 8.






31 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos of everything, but in particular the Bellini Opera House.

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    1. Isn’t the opera house stunning? The sound was great too - and the voices and orchestra exquisite!

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    2. It is stunning and I am certain with your musical ear it would have been magical.

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  2. Having been an opera 'freak' since age 6 (Thanks Mom and Dad!) guess to which photo my eyed have returned more than once :) ? And being ignorant of the sights and sounds of Italy south of Naples guess what has just gone to the top of my to-do list? Love to make involtini and like the gutsy filling to yours: must remember to add orange zest to mine next time . . .thanks for a lovely Sunday read . . .

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    1. I have been an opera fan since my freshman year in college - what a beautiful art form! So glad you love it, too, Eha! And fhat you make involtini, too!

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  3. Sigh, Sicily. I can picture the expression on the face of the fishmonger when you put in your request. I love it! He sounds like a true master of his trade.

    As you are, David, with this recipe. The orange zest is the most perfect addition!

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    1. You are very kind, John. I wish I had a video of him slicing the fish - truly amazing. I can't take full credit for the orange zest - our friend Joanne said she had it with citrus when on the western coast of Sicily. I thought it sounded good, so there you go!

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  4. First of all, thanks for the shout out!

    Second, I've always been intrigued by how small variations in a recipe can produce such different results. Like forming your stuffing into a log, rather than layering it on the slice, or adding a bit of chopped tomato or a pinch of red pepper. I guess that's what keep cooking so fascinating after all these years.

    And on supermarkets: True, they're hardly as fun but I find that the food in Italian supermarkets, as you say, can be remarkably good quality, especially as compared with their US counterparts.

    And finally, what a gorgeous place you stayed in! How did you ever manage to leave?

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    1. The Villa was truly exquisite - let me know if you ever want to throw a house party! I will give you all the details - the landlord is wonderful.

      When looking at "traditional" recipes, I am amazed at the variations, too. Every nonna has her own take, and I am sure they are all good. I was happy to give you a shout out because your version is just that much different form mine - ingredients and method. Why not give our readers everything they need to know?

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  5. lovely post david
    I agreee: I find Italian supermarkets can often be very, very good...however good street markets are much more fun
    this is what I miss most here in the uk: good street markets, I mean real markets for real people, not inflated and overpriced food halls like Borough Market, however beautiful they look - I find them a little fake because they do not cater for the majority and good food should be an everyday experience for everyone

    r u cooking yr was through Mary Tyler Simeti? or other books?
    stefano

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    1. Stefano - the street markets in Italy are the highlight of my travels, especially as I like to cook when I travel. I know what you mean about the Borough Market - too uppity, yet there are things you can get there (truffles, porcini, bergamot, etc) that you can't get elsewhere.

      I haven't started cooking through Simetti. Right now I am using Sicilia in Cucina, and am considering a recipe for rabbit in agrodolce - and just noticed yours. The recipes are night and day different. Maybe your version will win!

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  6. David, what a fantastic fish market. I've never made involtini di pesce spada, but will now. The Swordfish might be difficult to get here, but I'll try it with our Rödspätta which is a flatfish.
    All the images are great and the villa looked magnificent.

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    1. Thanks, Ron - I think your fish substitution sounds perfect. And, yes, the villa was amazing. And it had the rare working fireplace, which came in handy on the cold, windy and rainy nights we had.

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  7. This dish look so delicious, and one of my favorite things to do while traveling is chat with the food vendors, so your talk with the fish monger sounded delightful. And THAT VILLA! Wow, SO gorgeous! You travel well, my friend.

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    1. You know, Valentina, renting a villa like this turns out to be rather economical. So many hotels and B&Bs are more expensive and have no kitchens. This ended up being just $500 per person for the week. Not too bad for such elegance.

      Chatting with the fish guy was a blast - like you, those can be some of my favorite travel memories.

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  8. Yes I did enjoy the photos and I always seek out just this sort of shopping experience. GREG

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  9. What a ride ! Pinned; guess where :-) The board is titled: And I think to myself what a wonderful world ! Grazie milla !

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    1. What a great name for a Pinterest board! I love it and am heading over to follow it now!

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  10. I've never made involtini. I'm lucky enough to live about a 5 minute drive away from an excellent fish monger (he has a good retail shop, but his main business is actually supplying fish to local restaurants), so I know I can get what I need. I just need to do it! Fun post, terrific pictures. Thanks.

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    1. You are very lucky, John! I miss our fish monger in Maine!

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  11. How interesting! I usually see swordfish sold as 'swordfish steaks'(solid chunks) rather than in thin slices. I find that it is difficult to find stores in the US that sell whole fish that you can fillet yourself- it all seems to be already sliced and ready to go. Seems like fish mongers in Europe give you more variety to choose from!

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    1. Same here, Fran. I am wondering if I will be able to make these here!

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  12. I'm glad I came to your blog today, cause this recipe looks amazing, but your pictures are stunning as well... Despite my family legacy I've never visited Italy, what a shame... But your pictures really makes me want to visit this country and particularly Sicily :)

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    1. Thanks, Romain - it is so hard to believe you have never been to Italy. The Russo name is prevalent in Sicily - is that where your family roots are? I highly recommend a trip to Sicily - or Italy, in general. I think you would love it. Thanks for your kind comment about the photos, too.

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  13. I love Italy, the food is so fresh and tasty and the markets are just so amazing. I wish I could be back there right now!

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  14. Gorgeous photos and love the fishmonger story!

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  15. I've never tried involtini, David but now it's on my list! Looks absolutely delicious! I always enjoy your gorgeous travel photos and I hope you all had a terrific vacation in Italy!

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    1. We had the best three weeks, Marcelle - the beauty, the people, the food, and the wine - just amazing.

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