Branzino all’acqua pazza. This is a very simple way to poach fish. Acqua pazza translates as “crazy water”. Just what exactly is meant to be so crazy about it, I’ve no idea. It works best with firm, white fleshed fish. You can use fillets, steaks or whole fish. On this occasion I used fillets. Serves 4
Bass in acqua pazza ingredients
4 sea bass – filleted
400g cherry tomatoes – halved or left whole according to preference
A few sprigs of parsley – chopped
A clove of garlic – chopped
1 chilli – fresh or dried (optional)
Dry white wine
Fry the garlic and chilli in olive oil until the garlic has started to colour. Use a pan big enough to take all the fish in a single layer.
Add the tomatoes, parsley and a generous slug of white wine.
Add the fish in a single layer. Add water to bring the level of liquid up to about halfway up the fillets.
Cover and simmer until the fish is done. About 10 minutes for medium sized fillets.
Spigola su letto di Limoni. This recipe comes from an Italian tv chef. It’s a bit showy as you might expect. You have to clean the fish by making a slit down either side of the back bone. Snip through the back bone and remove it along with the guts. If you’re not so worried about the look of the thing, I’m sure it would taste just as good if you cleaned it the usual way, via the belly. Better still, you could fillet the bass and bake the fillets covered with the chopped tomato mixture. Serves 4
Sea bass on a bed of lemons ingredients
4 small sea bass – prepared as above
100g cherry tomatoes – chopped
8 whole cherry tomatoes
2 or 3 lemons thinly sliced
A few needles of fresh rosemary
1 clove of garlic – finely chopped
1 or 2 sprigs of parsley – finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Mix together the chopped tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, parsley and a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the fish with this mixture.
Add two slices of lemon to each fish, one on each side of the cavity. They should look something like the leaves of an open book.
Add two whole cherry tomatoes to each fish and drizzle with a little more oil.
Crumple a sheet of aluminium and use this to support the fish and keep them upright while cooking.
Bake for ten minutes at 180C
Cover a serving plate with the rest of the lemon slices arrange the cooked fish on top.
Bavette al tonno fresco. I’m not sure where this dish originates, but it feels like a Sicilian recipe due to the inclusion of tuna and pine nuts. It’s quite economical too as 200 grams of tuna feeds four people. My problem now is trying to think of a way to use up the other 800g I bought at the fish market this morning. I couldn’t resist, it was €2 a kilo Serves 4.
Bavette with tuna ingredients
320g bavette (or spaghetti or linguine) I used bavettini – a smaller version of bavette
100g cherry tomatoes – halved
2 anchovy fillets – chopped
20g pine nuts
70g good quality black olives
200g fresh tuna – cut into small cubes
Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic – finely sliced
1 shallot – finely sliced
1/2 glass white wine
Fry the shallot and the garlic in olive oil until it starts to colour.
Add the anchovies, half the pine nuts, the olives and the tomatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the capers and tuna. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add the wine and allow to reduce a little.
Remove from the heat. Add the lemon zest, parsley and the rest of the pine nuts.
Meanwhile cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the pan with the tuna. Return to the heat and mix well. Allow the pasta to take up the flavours for a minute or so, remove from the heat and serve.
Spaghetti con la gallinella. Gurnard is used mainly as a soup fish here. This recipe however serves it poached and flaked with spaghetti. This avoids the problem of navigating the numerous bones. When you’ve finished you’ll be left with a couple of litres of pretty good fish stock which is worth saving and would freeze well. Serves 4.
Spaghetti with gurnard ingedients
300g whole gurnard – cleaned
Zest from 1 lemon
Parsley – finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
100g small or cherry tomatoes – sliced
Stock vegetables (Onion, carrot, celery)
Peel and chop the stock vegetables. Add to a pan with 3 litres of water and a large pinch of salt. Simmer for 30 minutes. You can omit this step if you are pressed for time.
Add the fish and poach for 5-6 minutes. The fish should be starting to flake, but not dissolving. Remove the fish and allow to cool slightly. Strain and reserve the stock.
Flake the fish taking care to remove all the bones.
Mince together the lemon zest, the garlic and the parsley.
Fry the fish gently in a little olive oil and add a little of the stock. Be careful not to add to much, you don’t want it too sloppy.
Cook the spaghetti in the stock until al dente
Just before the spaghetti is done, add the minced ingredients and the tomatoes to the fish and warm through.
Drain the spaghetti and add to the pan with the fish. Mix well and cook for a further minute or so.
Bucatini e cozze all’amatriciana. This is a new twist on the classic amatriciana. The addition of mussels works surprisingly well. It is adapted from “Sale e Pepe” which is something like the Italian equivalent of “Good Food Magazine”. The original recipe calls for guanciale, but as this is hard to find, even in Italy, this is my version using pancetta. Serves 4
Polpettone alla napoletana. This is a tasty and economical recipe. In Naples it is also known as ‘polpettone in salsetta’ – meatloaf in sauce. The sauce is used to dress pasta for the first course and the meat is eaten as the second course. The recipe calls for buffalo mozzarella and Neapolitan salami, but I’m sure it would be fine with whatever you have handy. Thank to Gino for the advice. Serves 4-6.
IMHO Pasta al forno Pugliese. Baked pasta is popular all over Italy. This version comes from Puglia. It uses Scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella. If you can’t find scamorza you can use mozzarella, but make sure it’s not too fresh as it will make the dish too wet. Actually, that probably wouldn’t be a problem outside Italy It is traditionally made with pecorino, but nowadays most people use parmesan. There is a lighter meatless version that leaves out the meatballs. Thanks to Grazia and Tiziana for the advice. Serves 6
Ragù per pasta al forno. This is used for many dishes – lasagne, baked ziti etc. There are many recipes, but the proportion of meat to tomato is always similar. One of the most common mistakes people make is to add too much tomato. If you have time, the flavour improves if you make it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. Enough for 4-6 portions of pasta.
300g minced beef
75g carrot, finely chopped
75g onion, finely chopped
50g celery, finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Fry gently for a few minutes until the onions start to go translucent.
Add the meat and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is well browned.
Add the wine and continue cooking until it has almost completely evaporated.
Add the passata, season with salt and cover.
Cook very slowly for at least 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out.
At the end of cooking, season with freshly ground black pepper.
Pasta alla puttanesca from Campania. The translation of the title of this dish is “whore’s pasta”! There are a lot of stories as to how it got its name, but one of the most common is that it was a dish that the working girls could quickly prepare between customers. Another version is that is was cooked in brothels so customers would be lured in by the enticing aromas. I don’t really buy that one. I think food would be the last thing on the customers minds It is a relatively modern dish, probably dating back to the end of the second world war. Both Lazio and Campania claim it as their own. This is the Campania version. The recipe comes from Accademia Italiana della Cucina.
A note about the olives. Use the best you can find. Don’t use pitted black olives as properly matured olives are too soft to have their stones removed mechanically, so they will almost certainly be green olives which have been dyed with ferrous glucomate (E151, a synthetic coal tar).
500g bucatini, linguine, spaghetti or similar
500g peeled tomatoes (fresh or tinned)
2 anchovy fillets (salted or in oil)
100g good quality olives, rinsed. The recipe calls for Gaeta olives, which of course can be green or black, but I have only ever seen this dish prepared with black olives. You can leave them whole or stone them and roughly chop. I prefer half and half.
50g capers, rinsed and roughly chopped. The recipe doesn’t stipulate salted or in brine. I prefer the salted variety
100g olive oil. This seems a lot but you need a fair amount to allow the anchovy fillets to dissolve properly. Use less if you wish
1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 chilli (fresh, dried or a good pinch of chilli flakes)
Gently fry the garlic, chilli and anchovy fillets in the oil. Mash the anchovies with a wooden spoon until they have completely dissolved.
Remove the garlic. You can also remove the chilli if you don’t like it too hot. If you prefer a really fiery dish, crush or finely chop the chilli before frying.
Add the tomatoes, olives and capers. Mash the tomatoes thoroughly with a fork and cook over a medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss the pasta with the sauce and heat gently for a couple of minutes.
Coniglio alla Cacciatore or Huntsman’s Rabbit. When I lived in Bergamo the Sunday lunch was usually roast rabbit with polenta. I was regularly woken at seven in the morning by my neighbour grinding his polenta under my bedroom window. I’m sure he did it on purpose (we didn’t get on that well ) I see that rabbit is coming back into fashion in the UK, so I thought I’d share this recipe. It’s not roast rabbit, but another common Bergamasco dish. You can use any type of mushroom, even porcini if your bank balance will stand it. Serves 4
Rabbit with mushrooms ingredients
1 rabbit cut into portions
400 g mushrooms
100 g passata
1 stick celery
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp flour
100 ml chicken stock
1 glass dry white wine
5 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chop the carrot and celery into small strips and thinly slice the onion.
Add to a pan with 3 tbsp of olive oil and cook over a medium heat until the onions start to go translucent.
Add the rabbit pieces and brown. Sprinkle them with the flour.
Thinly slice the mushrooms and sautè them in a separate pan with the rest of the olive oil and the whole, lightly crushed clove of garlic. Cook until they are well coloured and start to give off their juice.
Add to the pan with the rabbit and add the wine. Cook over a high heat until the wine has reduced by half.
Add the passata and stock, season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about and hour over a low to medium heat.
This is a really simple recipe for an Italian style tomato sauce. In the UK we tend to dress our pasta with a lot more sauce than the Italians do (dare I say too much? ). If you can’t find really ripe fresh tomatoes, use tinned. You won’t get good results with supermarket ‘bounceable’ toms. This recipe is makes enough sauce to dress 4 portions of pasta. Really! Trust me! On this occasion I served the sauce with linguine, but it goes equally well with many other short or long pastas (e.g. spaghetti, bucatini , sedani, penne, cavatelli etc.)
Tomato sauce ingredients
250g tinned tomatoes or peeled fresh tomatoes
A pinch of sugar (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
10 fresh basil leaves, torn
Put the tomatoes and their juice into a saucepan along with the garlic, sugar and a good pinch of salt. Cover and heat gently for about 30 minutes without stirring.
Remove the garlic and mash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. If you’re using tinned tomatoes cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Immediately before serving, stir in the olive oil and the basil.
Spaghetti all’ amatriciana. From Lazio. This is another Italian classic. Pasta with pancetta (or guanciale if you want to be really authentic), tomatoes and chilli. It is more traditionally served with bucatini, but is just as often served with spaghetti. Serves 4.