Swordfish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce.

I am calling this Pesce Spada alla Putanesca as it reminds me of Sicily.

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It was with some reluctance that I decided to throw my recipe into the ring of the Cookbook Guru this month. Firstly, I don’t own a Karen Martini book and I was never tempted to make any of her recipes when they were syndicated weekly in the Sunday Magazine some time back. They just didn’t appeal.  But on a recent trip to the library with Mr Tranquillo, haunter of libraries and frequent borrower, I came across a copy of Karen Martini’s “Cooking at Home.”  After reading the book cover to cover, I was pleasantly surprised and I have already made two dishes from this book, this dish and a pear dessert ( coming soon).

A recent rule I have inflicted on myself is to use up what’s on hand when choosing or inventing a recipe.  As I had already purchased a nice slab of Pesce Spada or Sword Fish from the Preston Market, and had all the other ingredients in my pantry, Karen’s Sword Fish with Tomato, Chilli and Caper sauce ticked all the boxes. I have given the dish the Italian title above as the sauce is very reminiscent of a classic Putanesca sauce. ( it only lacked the anchovies).  And just like the putana, or prostitute of the original, I too had all the ingredients on hand to throw into the sauce. This dish is very piccante, assertive, gustoso.  Any sustainable fish could be substituted, bearing in mind that a delicate fish would be swamped by the flavour. The beauty of this dish is that the sauce can be made ahead: indeed it develops more flavour and thickens, but leave out the basil until reheating.  Snapper or Barramundi could work well too. A nice Pinot Noir or Sangiovese pairs well with this dish.

Serves 4

  • 200 mls extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 7 caperberries, drained and sliced or 2 Tbles of capers
  • 4  Tbles black olives, pitted, (halved)
  • 1 teas dried chilli flakes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 200 mls white wine ( dry for example Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay)
  • 3 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce (passata)
  • 2 handfuls basil leaves ( oregano would be a good substitute)
  • 4 swordfish, ( about 120 grs each) cut in half lengthways ( remove gristly bits)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic for 1-2 minutes or until just golden, then add the caperberries, olives, chilli flakes, and salt to taste. Stir. Then pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the tomato sauce (sugo or passata), and simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Check seasoning and stir in most of the basil.

Brush the swordfish with olive oil and season. Heat a large non stick frying pan over high heat and sear the fish for about two minutes on each side or until just cooked ( and golden).

Spoon the sauce onto four plates or a large platter and top with the fish. Scatter with extra basil and serve with a salad and crusty bread.

I followed the recipe for once! Anything above in brackets are my small notes. The saucing is generous so do include some good bread, or serve with some soft polenta.

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A little note re the tomato passata. As I was not able to make tomato sauce this year due to the humble, no pathetic, quantity from my garden, I found this great sauce at BAS foods in Brunswick. It tastes just like one Nonna would make.

Lakes Entrance Seafarers’ festival 2013.

“Are we there yet?” That’s me in the passenger seat, in between texting everyone I know.

A trip to Lakes Entrance from Melbourne seems to take forever. There are a few unscheduled stops along on the way, a quick $15.oo meal of flathead tails at the Trafalgar Hotel, a visit to an Op Shop or two on route, a stop at the Thorpdale Potato Shed for some fresh Nicola or Dutch Cream potatoes.  And what about that Turkish Magic shop in Stratford for an exotic ottoman?  No wonder the trip to the Lakes seems to take forever. Mr Tranquillo is a patient driver: I justify the stops in the interest of leg stretching.

Lakes Entrance is 318 kilometres from Melbourne and in theory, the trip should take 3.5 hours. In your dreams!Image

Each year this seaside town holds a Seafarers Festival, which occurs on the Saturday following December 6, the feast day of St Nicholas of the Seas. The festival commences with a march through the main street, the green statue of St Nic leading the way.  He is then carried to the sea and watches silently while a group of pastors conduct the Blessing of the Fleet,  a simple Christian event,  preceded by an Aboriginal tribute.This year’s Aboriginal  welcome to country  included a remarkable didgeridoo performance, the melancholic sound silencing the gathered crowd. Today both Lakes Entrance and LakeTyers retain a strong Aboriginal community  and presence.

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Three large marquees were set up for the day’s entertainment.  The first cooking demonstration was conducted by Mark Olive, or the black olive, as he calls himself. Mark is really funny and engaging: he introduces us to indigenous foods as we taste a huge variety of peppers and herbs from the Australian bush. He is a great advocate for local produce, and sees the day when our herbs and animal meats become mainstream.ImageAlthough St Nicholas was known for his abstinence, this doesn’t deter us from indulging in a full wine tasting. This year only one wine company tempted us with their goods: in previous years, the Gippsland wine industry was better represented.

With a glass in hand, we moved on to the next event, conducted by Mark Norvoyle and his handsome apprentice Samuel Smith.Image Within 40 minutes Mark and Sam deftly pin boned a side of fresh salmon, making one simple gravlax, some salmon and eggplant spring rolls, salmon confit, and a sashimi and tofu salmon. They made it look all too simple.ImageSalivating from the food demonstartions, we headed off in search of tucker, finding a wondrous Paella stall. The serves came in small buckets, with a generous supply of calamari, scallops and mussels for $8.00. We scoffed these down as we watched a troupe of Greek dancers spinning around in the big marquee.ImageImageImage

Off to another cooking demo by Matt and Mike, from My Kitchen Rules fame. These two were hilarious. Not cooks, these entertainers gave us an insight into the world of MKR.

A quick rest, then off to the Lakes Entrance Bowling club for an Italian Buffet night, with all you can eat pasta and pizza. The food was so- so, and that’s being kind, but the main attraction was the band, I Viaggiatori. Kavisha Mazzella and her troupe, performed beautiful Italian folk songs and ballads from the album, ‘Suitcase Secrets’.ImageIncluded was the Australianised version of Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire, one of my favourites, and Canzone della Lega, the radical womens song from the rice growing area of the Po Valley. Kavisha is a Melbourne legend, having initiated and led Le goie delle donne, an Italo- Australian womens choir, in the 90s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jse5tqHTIdc

And then on Sunday we rested and ate more fish.

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Lake Tyers Dreaming and Fish Frenzy Recipes.

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The waves pound the coastline, often breaking like thunder, along the Ninety Mile Beach in Eastern Victoria . It’s a rugged and isolated stretch with few settlements along the way. Lake Tyers is one of those magic spots, a small town facing the gentle lakes which protect it via a sand spit, from the wild seas of Bass Straight. The town consists of beach houses, a few camping grounds, one milk bar/general store and delightful pub set right on the lake,the Waterwheel Tavern.Image

It’s the place I choose to visit out of season, usually in early December, and sometimes in winter, away from shopping malls, job lists and the internet, which is generally unreliable. We are here to ponder the view, read, walk and eat fish.Image

On clear nights, the horizon sparkles with fishing boats and trawlers, night’s glittering promise of tomorrow’s fresh fish. The catch is landed at Lakes Entrance, a major commercial fishing port which is a short 10 km drive away. Two outlets stock local fish and a few imports from interstate. The Fishermens Own Omega 3 fish shop. (which is basically the fish Co-Op ) and Ferry Seafoods, which is a little fish shop underneath a restaurant of the same name. It’s a fishy surprise each day!ImageImage

On rough nights I ponder the lives of these commercial fishermen who love and respect the sea and I think of my ancestors who earned their living fishing off the coast in the nearby town of Port Albert, many of whom met ‘their watery graves’.Image

The fish feast began on the first evening with a half kilo of freshly caught wild school prawns. To this we added bread and butter,lemon, and beer. A fitting start to the holiday!Image

The following day the ‘fishermens’ own shop’ had some beautiful slippery grey mauve calamari, a steal at $13.95  a kilo. We dusted them with flour, gave them a quick minute fry, then dressed them with chilli flakes, salt, spring onions and lemon. Say no more!Image

On the third day, the wonderful folk at the same shop had filleted a ton of school sand whiting. I would not normally buy these little fellas as they are so boney, but when filleted, bring them on! I bought a huge pile for $9.00- so delicate and transparent and silvery. These were popped into a Thai green curry, loaded with ginger, garlic, chilli, red onion, kaffir lime leaves, basil, lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk. I added a few beans and zucchini, to avoid growing fins! The fish were stirred through at the end and cooked in a minute.

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The Fish gods were still smiling on us. On the fourth day some wild caught scallops turned up for a song. In the evening, these little gems were stirred through a simple spaghetti dish with lots of garlic, extra virgin olive oil,basil and a hint of chilli. The halved scallops cooked in the heat of the pasta.ImageImage

Accommodation is available in camping grounds or in apartments and beach houses. These are usually cheaper out of season, which is anytime outside of the Christmas holidays and Easter.

This post is dedicated to my sister Kerrie, who has inherited the same fish gene from Port Albert, and to Bruce, who is always so good natured.