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!

Pasta alla Romana

Pasta alla Romana

No, no, no, before any Romans come out to throw stones at me, this is not a traditional recipe. It is my interpretation of typical Roman ingredients which turned out to be truly yummy: Guanciale, romanesco, pecorino romano are real milestones of the roman kitchen – mind you, not the only ones; but they really are everywhere.

Once you taste guanciale, you would understand why it is used in so many dishes. Do you like bacon? Wait till you have eaten guanciale. It is not smoked but rubbed with a delicious cure and is so much more delicate than bacon or pancetta or speck. (Though of course you could substitute it with these if you don’t live in Italy.) Since we started our scouting visits to Rome last year to check out so many things before really moving down, I have been thinking about guanciale. Actually, I even dreamt about it. There, I said it. It was in December that I made a note in my cellphone while going through the mercato Trionfale (on Andrea Doria): rigatoni, guanciale, romanesco, pecorino romano, onions, raisins, almonds, white wine (sweet?).

After weeks (months?) of being first without an apartment, then without a kitchen, this week I finally made the dish I had been thinking about for months. And it was even better than I imagined. Sitting in front of the fire, along with a glass of full bodied white wine, this pasta dish hits all the right spots, savory and hearty, with a mellow and sweet note from the caramelized onions and moscato soaked raisins. Comfort food for a chilly night at the end of winter here in Rome, though I am sure it will taste just as well where you are sitting right now! Well, except maybe in Cebu, Philippines (hi!), where I think is summer right now!

Guanciale, Romanesco, Pecorino Romano

Pasta alla Romana
own creation

prep: 15 mins
cook: ca. 20 mins

rigatoni, 500g, or other short pasta
romanesco, 1, or broccoli
guanciale, 100g, or pancetta/bacon, in one thick slice
onions, 3 medium sized
raisins, handful
pecorino romano, 50g, or other hard, flavorful sheep milk cheese
almonds, handful, blanched and slivered
sweet white wine, 1 cup

Bring a big pot of water (at least 5 liters/quarts) to boil, add salt after it boils.

Soak the raisins in the sweet white wine. Cut the onions in half-slices and roast them over a medium-low heat in a heavy pan with little olive oil. You want to do this slowly so that the onions turn brown slowly and caramelize during the process. Cut the romanesco into its florets. Cut the guanciale into strips. Add the guanciale to the onions halfway through. Add the raisins and the soaking wine to the pan near the end.

Throw the pasta and the romanesco florets into the boiling salt water and cook till al dente, firm to the bite. With rigatoni, this happens about the same time for the pasta and the romanesco, after around 10 mins. Drain and mix gently with the onion-guanciale mixture in the pan. Divide between 4 serving dishes. Add the almond slivers and freshly grated pecorino romano on the individual servings.

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.