Aldo’s Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Pesce Spada

“Come on Friday night when we’ll have Spaghetti Puttanesca with added Pesce Spada,” cajoled Aldo, the waiter, host, and sometime cook of the old Abruzzo Club. Aldo ran that vast dining room floor like a master of ceremonies. He conned all the kids with tricks and riddles, charmed the coiffed Nonne with flirtatious compliments that only Italian men do so well, and had a ready risqu√© joke¬†for the tables of older men. For us non¬†Abbruzzese, he tantalised us with the promise of authentic Italian cuisine, future dishes, specials from the kitchen that weren’t yet listed on the menu. When Aldo and his son left the Abruzzo club, we never returned. The soul and life of that place left with them. Nothing would ever taste the same again. Good food is more than the sum of its ingredients.

When I came across a small slab of Swordfish at my favourite little market recently, I thought of Aldo and how he might make this dish. It’s a substantial pasta dish and requires a little more preparation than that required by a busy Puttana.

Friday night Fish and Pasta, forget the chips.

Aldo’s Spaghetti Puttanesca with ¬†Swordfish.¬†For 2 greedy serves, 3 regular.

  • 200 gr swordfish or pesce spada
  • 200-220 gr spaghetti
  • a small bunch of oregano
  • a pinch of sea salt flakes
  • 3 ¬†cloves garlic
  • EV olive oil, a goodly amount
  • 1 can of tomatoes, drained of juice, large pieces roughly chopped.
  • a small handful of pitted black olives, halved
  • 2 teaspoons of salted capers, soaked in water
  • black pepper
  • finely chopped parsley

Method

  • Make the marinade for the fish. Using a small mortar and pestle, add the garlic and salt and begin pounding, then add the oregano¬†leaves, around 2 tablespoons, and continue pounding till a green paste is formed, then add around three tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Cut the swordfish through the centre, ie horizontally, to make two thinner pieces. ( most swordfish is usually sold in very thick slabs- by slicing horizontally, you should have two equal portions of around 1 cm in thickness). Chop these into small chunks of around 2 cm. Place in a small bowl and mix in half of the marinade. Leave for around 1/2 hour on bench.
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt well. Add the pasta and cook according to packet directions.
  • Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan to medium-high and add the remaining marinade to the pan. When hot, add the cubes of swordfish and toss around until just cooked. Don’t let the fish overcook as it tends to become quite tough.
  • Remove the fish and set aside. Add the chopped tomato pieces to the same pan, add a little juice to get the sauce moving but don’t flood it with juice as this dilutes the flavour of the other ingredients. Add the chopped olives and drained capers. Sir about until hot, then add the cooked fish. Add a little pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary.
  • When the pasta is cooked just¬†al dente, drain, then add to the sauce, tossing about to amalgamate the ingredients. This second cooking in the pan makes the spaghetti really hot and brings the all the elements together. Add the chopped parsley and serve in a preheated pasta serving dish.

The Abruzzo club, Lygon Street East, Brunswick is now called 377 On Lygon. The restaurant has had a makeover. If you’ve been there recently, let me know how it went.

Involtini di Melanzane. Stuffed Eggplant Rolls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEggplants are so versatile. I am always excited by their possibilities in the kitchen. Common in Mediterranean and Middle eastern cuisines as well as those of India, China and South East Asia, the spongy flesh of the eggplant readily soaks up other flavours, especially olive oil. Melanzana, the Italian word for eggplant or aubergine, is the most shady looking member of the deadly nightshade family, solanum melongena, and the Italian name, melanzana may follow from this or is derived from mela insana, which, translated into English, means mad apple. The latter may have some validity as most Europeans were fearful of members of the deadly nightshade family (including tomatoes and potatoes) and this particular member looks pretty scary! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It can be purchased all year round but the best specimens arrive in my garden and in fresh produce markets in Autumn. When fresh, as distinct from stored, stashed, sprayed and imported, the flesh is white and seedless Рthere is no need to salt them at all. My seedlings were sold as the Bonica variety and while slow to mature, they produce lovely elongated but fleshy fruit.

Brush the eggplant with oil and grill. Nice and easy.
Brush the eggplant with oil and grill. Nice and easy.

Last week when Debi at My Kitchen Witch explored the role of breadcrumbs used as condiment (conza)  in Sicilian cooking, I was reminded of a wonderful Sicilian eggplant recipe from one of my favourite books, My Taste of Sicily by Dominique Rizzo. ( Lantern, 2011). This is a gem of a book and I am slowly working my way through it.

Grilled eggplant ready to rock and roll.
Grilled eggplant ready to rock and roll.

I can recommend this little dish if you have all these goods on hand, as I did. Oh happy day! Involtini di Melanzane РStuffed Eggplant Rolls. Serves six as a side dish or entrée, or 3-4 as a main with another side dish.

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants cut lengthways into 1 cm slices
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • fresh unsprayed lemon leaves ( optional but very desirable)
  • 3 cups tomato passata ( either home-made or purchased)
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino

Filling

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
  • ¬†1 1/2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup course fresh breadcrumbs ( I used left over sourdough/ use a quality bread here)
  • 3/4 cup grated pecorino.

Method.

  1. Brush the eggplant with oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on a flat iron stove top griller. Alternately, place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
  2. For the filling, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the anchovy and stir for 1 minute, then add the capers, parsley, tomato paste, and a little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute. Remove pan from the heat and combine with the breadcrumbs and pecorino: the mixture should have a thick pasty consistency. If the filling is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
  3. Preheat oven to 180c.
  4. Place an eggplant slice on a chopping board and spoon on a tablespoon ( or less) of the filling. Roll up the eggplant slice and place in an oiled baking dish or terracotta tegame. Repeat with the remaining slices until all used. If there is any filling left, save it for stuffing another vegetable, or just eat it straight out of the pan!
  5. Place a lemon leaf between each roll. Pour over the tomato passata and sprinkle over the pecorino. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Serve hot or at room temperature.

*I served mine with lemon couscous.

*Gluten free version? Consider using cooked arborio rice instead of breadcrumbs.

* Dairy free? Just leave out the cheese.

* No pecorino? Just use parmigiano.

Also see another version of this dish, using ricotta as the stuffing, produced by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert.