Eat Fish Week: Pasta With Fish

I will be on an island all week, and a bad conscience has been nagging all the time. Have so much stuff to blog about but so little time. So here you are: my folders give enough material for a whole fish week. You won’t find exact recipes for anything, just an idea of what I threw together. It is meant to inspire you. And if I find a begging comment about some real recipe when I come back, I might think about it!

Pasta, alici, arancio

Here are two fishy pasta favorites, that I offer my fish and pasta-loving husband again and again. The first one (above) is the recreation of a pasta dish we had years ago in Alessandria up north, of all places. We were so intrigued by the combination of anchovies, (blood-) orange segments and mint that I had to tinker at home to find the right combination. My advice: Let the fishmonger butterfly the anchovies for you, it can be done at home but takes such a long time (and not everybody is willing to do this bloody job!).

pasta melanzane spada

Another favorite pasta combination, this one we picked up in Sicily: Eggplants, swordfish (in times of dire I have made this dish with almost any readily available fish-fillet and it works always!) and, yes, mint again. Try this!

Ratatouille, Byaldi, Imam Bayıldı

Imam Bayıldı

On Friday the Pixar movie Ratatouille starts in the USA (watch the trailer, and a preview – unfortunately, we in Germany have to wait till October for the movie!) and you already know that, as a foodie, you have to go see this animation film about a talented rat who wants to become a chef in a Paris kitchen. The “final dish, the one on which the entire plot hangs … is the movie’s namesake, and needs to be so special it will impress the restaurant critic”, this french dish called byaldi, a version of ratatouille, has actually its origin in a turkish dish: Imam bayıldı, “the imam fainted”.

As I am sure you will come out of that movie wanting to recreate the dish, I would like to suggest you make the original, which is very easy to prepare with scrumptious and mouth-watering results. It is really easy, its secrets are slow cooking (active cooking time is not that long though), a lot of good extra virgin olive oil and some sugar. Such “zeytinyaǧlı” (literally: “with olive oil”) dishes can be cooked with any vegetables (classics are green beans with tomatoes and artichoke bottoms with fava beans) and are traditionally eaten either at the end of a succession of meze or right after the main dish. As they are always eaten cold, or at least at room temperature, they would also make for a perfect summer main dish if you like. Although I am a carnivore, note that this dish, like all the other “zeytinyaǧlı”, is vegan. And remember: They always taste best on the second day!

Drink a crisp dry white wine without oak with this dish. We drank a Chablis 2004, which is a Chardonnay from France, with yeasty aromas.

Oh, why the imam fainted? He came home and saw the dish his wife had prepared and as he realized how much of the precious olive oil went in it, he fainted!

Imam Bayıldı
classic Turkish recipe, as learned in my mom’s kitchen
serves 6

prep: 20 mins
cook: ca. 1 1/2 hours unattended, 15 mins active

eggplants, 6 long thin ones (ca. 1 kg)
tomatoes, 6 (ca. 600g)
green peppers, 3 small ones (ca. 200g – you can use bell peppers or long thin but not hot ones, as well)
onions, 6 (ca. 450g)
garlic, 3-9 cloves (to taste, the more the better!)
flat leaf parsley, a small bunch
olive oil, 1/2 – 1 cup (extra virgin)
sugar, 1 tbsp, heaped
salt

(Click on the small pictures below to read detailed explanations of each step)

Trim the “heads” of the eggplants. Do not cut them completely off. Peel the eggplants in stripes. Put the eggplants in salted water. Blanch and peel the tomatoes, cut into cubes. Dice the green peppers. Peel and cut into half the onions, slice thinly. Peel and slice thinly the garlic cloves as well. Mince the parsley very fine.

Take the eggplants from the salted bath, squeeze them lightly and pat dry. Cover the bottom of a heavy pan with olive oil. Start with half a cup, you could get away with it, but more could be necessary. When the oil is hot, brown the whole eggplants from all sides till they have softened a bit, but not thoroughly cooked, ca. 8 mins. Do this in batches, do not overcrowd your pan. Lay the fried eggplants in a single layer in a wide pan or pot with a lid.

In the remaining olive oil in the pan, start roasting the onions. Turn the heat down to medium, you want to slowly brown the onions. Sprinkle the sugar on the onions and let them caramelize and get soft. Add the garlic, roast for a couple minutes, then add the green peppers and tomatoes, sprinkle salt over it. Let cook over low heat, with the lid closed, until the vegetables have gone soft and juicy, around 20 mins. Add the minced parsley at the very end.

Slit open a pocket in each eggplant. Spoon the cooked vegetable mix into and over the eggplants, there will be more than enough filling, cover the eggplants and the space between them. If the filling is not juicy, you may want to add half a cup of warm water into the pan. Cover and let slowly cook for at least an hour over very low heat, till the eggplants are really soft and cooked through. Alternatively, you may put the pan with the filled eggplants in a warm (but not very hot) oven for an hour.

Imam Bayıldı Ingredients Trim the Eggplant Peel the Eggplants in Stripes Salt Bath Blanch the Tomatoes Fry the Eggplants Lay out the Eggplants Roast the Onions Add the Peppers and Tomatoes Make Pockets Fill the Mixture Final Product

Pastasciutta con Melanzane

Pasta with eggplant

Pasta with eggplant

Eggplants are one of the many common points between my home country Turkey and my chosen love-affair Italy. In Turkey we say there are 100 dishes involving eggplants (Would it suffice as proof if I start counting with eggplant jam which adorns many breakfast tables across southeast Anatolia?), and Italian cuisine, oops, I mean many regional cuisines in Italy, especially the southern ones, abound with eggplant dishes as well.

So it was a shock for me the first time I realized that there are, in the western world, people who don’t know what an eggplant is. A lot of them. Or have come across it somewhere but don’t like it. Most often I hear “it is so slimy”, followed by “it is bitter”. It seems like the Turks and the Italians (and a lot of middle eastern cultures who love eggplants) have kept it a big secret that there is a cure against both and that the results are well worth the effort.

To be honest, an eggplant per se is pretty tasteless. Yes, there is the bitterness, but other than that… This is why this fruit (yes, it is a fruit!) makes a perfect base for other flavors! You have to grill it (mmmh, smoke), or ladle it up with tomato sauce, or fry it (need I say in extra virgin olive oil), so that it can turn into something laden with complex aromas. And the bitterness is easily broken: Just slice the eggplant (thickness according to the recipe you will follow), pour a lot of salt (preferably coarse salt) on the pieces, and rinse after half an hour or so. Pat dry with paper towels and you are all set to go.

This pasta with eggplants (pastasciutta means basically any dried pasta, usually without eggs, just drum wheat flour and water) has been on my repertoire for some years now, a quick dish that will satisfy a lot of cravings at once: the carbs (T. and I, we could eat pasta everyday! He almost does, I try not to), the freshness, the savory taste, especially welcome during the holiday season where it seems like we are eating only cookies and desserts!

And if you find it still tastes bitter, regard it as the perfect occasion to drink that south Italian or Spanish young red wine with a lot of tannins that is probably sitting somewhere around your apartment. An oaky nero d’avola from Sicily or a simple but heavy rioja from Spain will become tame confronted with eggplants and both will profit from each other. Do try this combination out!

pasta with eggplants
adapted from a traditional Sicilian recipe in
Ricettario della cucina regionale italiana – Accademia Italiana della Cucina
serves 4
prep: 10 mins + 30 mins wait
cook: 10 mins

spaghetti, 500g
eggplants, 2 large violet ones
mozzarella, 1 (~ 250g, or ricotta salata, 100g)
basil leaves, a handful
garlic, 1-2 cloves
olive oil, 4 tbsp
coarse salt, 2 cups
black pepper

Wash and dry the eggplants. Slice them into 1cm thick slices. Place on a tray, sprinkle with the salt. Leave for around half an hour or longer if you have the time. Some juice will trickle out of the slices. Rinse well, pat dry with paper towels. Cut the slices into cubes of ca. 1cm edges.

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions (In abundant salted boiling water, 8-10 mins). In the meantime, heat up the olive oil in a heavy and large pan. Saute the garlic cloves and the eggplant pieces in the hot oil. Add black pepper to taste. Cut the mozzarella to small pieces. If using ricotta salata, crumble it in a dish.

When the pasta is cooked al dente (start trying 1 minute before the stated cooking time on the package), drain it, mix it with the contents of the pan. You might want to add some more olive oil if the pasta is sticking.

Serve on warmed plates. Garnish with mozzarella pieces and basil leaves.