The expression “What’s in a name?” could not be more out of place than with describing swordfish: a fish with a sword on its nose. Once beheaded though it is just a big black skinned cylinder with a strong tail. Buying it in frozen slices is an option, and probably the easiest one, since finding it fresh, with the head laying next to it, requires a trip to Sicily. On the daily open markets in Palermo the heads are a fundamental ornamental feature, impossible to ignore and leaving costumers impressed and intrigued.
With no small bones, only a big backbone, it is loved by children and fuzzy eaters. The versatility in preparing makes it a product loved by cooks. The name ‘swordfish’ crowns it all. The mighty sword, the fierce reputation somehow gets transmitted in those who eat the fish.
What to do with fresh swordfish
The easiest way of preparing is simply grilling the fillets and season them with olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon. For scenic reasons as well as for taste the fish must display the brown lines of the grill. A preparation that has all it takes to have success, and is almost impossible to screw up, so well worth to give it a go. Swordfish is not a cheap fish so be sure to serve appetizers and pasta before turning up with the main dish. If you have ravenous guests, highlight the delicacy of the fish, making them look uncouth rather than you being cheap.
And if you are not sure about the freshness of the fish you bought, serve different wines during dinner and so to create a diversion of why people felt unwell the following day. Better stick to frozen swordfish; use a decent olive oil, since there is no accompanying sauce people often expect and even pretend. If no complaints or questions immerse, bring them up yourself, bask in the light, and tell your diners how fragile the equilibrium sea –fish, salt- and land -olive oil, lemon – blend. Talk about purity, talk about the elegance of simplicity. Carefully deliberate if saying that this naturalness symbolizes your friendship, if this would move your guest of turns you into a clown.
Involtini - let's get cooking
A more difficult but likewise successful preparation are ‘rolls’ (involtini). The advantage is that you’ll need far less fish and save money. The taste is determined by the filling rather than by the fish but will give its name to the recipe anyway.
12 thin slices of swordfish, size of an open hand (around half a kilo)
6 slices of bread (crumbled)
100 grams of breadcrumbs
1 clove of garlic
Sicilian signature: pine nuts and raisin (25 grams of each)
1 glass of orange juice
Mint (four minced leaves, preferably fresh)
salt and oil
Gently fry a chopped up onion and a clove of garlic in olive oil till soft and put apart to cool down. Mix all the ingredients (apart swordfish and breadcrumbs) and spoon the mixture on the sliced swordfish. Roll them, use a toothpick to hold them together. Arrange them in an oiled oven tray and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and olive oil. Place a strip of orange skin between them. Bake at 180 degrees for about a quarter of an hour. A popular variation uses diced tomatoes, capers and green olives to stuff the fish.
Pasta with swordfish and aubergines
There are two kinds of pasta in Italy: quick ones and others. If you can prepare the sauce within the time the water boils and the pasta cooks, it is quick. Most vegetable based pasta dishes fall in this category, since vegetables don’t want to be overcooked here. On weekdays quick pasta is preferred, unless you eat out. Furthermore, pasta sauces containing meat or fish are, especially in Sicily, marks a celebration. Pasta with swordfish and aubergines is definitely not a quick dish and therefor eaten only on special occasions and in restaurants. It showcases Sicily’s abundance and potential, lush and panache. Not easy to prepare but once mastered this dish leads to a guaranteed triumph; balance is the keyword, patience the virtue.
400 grams of pasta
250 grams of diced (.5cm cube) swordfish
200 grams of cherry tomatoes
1 big aubergine
1/2 glass of white wine
1 clove of garlic
1 small onion, finely diced
Vegetable oil for frying
Olive oil for seasoning
Dice the aubergine (1 cm cubes), pour them in a colander, scatter with salt and put aside for at least an hour. Wipe them with blotting paper and fry in hot oil (170 degrees) till golden brown. Do not fry all the cubes at once; place every batch on blotting paper. You can start boiling the water the pasta is going to cook in now. Heat the garlic in olive oil in a large frying pan; as soon as the garlic releases its smell you may take it out –or leave it. Add the diced swordfish and stir gently, trying not to break the cubes. When the fish turns white, add the wine and let it simmer away for a minute of two. Add the cherry tomatoes cut in half, parsley and half of the mint. Leave it on a slow fire for 15 minutes, or till your pasta has cooked. Add the pasta and half a cup of the water it boiled in. Stir gently till all the pasta is covered with sauce. Serve with mint sprinkled on top.