Crazy for Fish

Fish SoupThink Naples, think pizza. But I make pizza all the time and it’s usually the same old pizza, because my family likes the same pizza toppings every week. So, when I think Naples, I think fish. Campania’s coast is famous for its seafood creations – everything from stewed baby octopus to salt cod with raisins and pine nuts to Chritmastime fried eel. I love the challenge of cooking tentacles and giant worms and stuff, but, again, people around my house are more comfortable with the familiar.

Once a week, on my way back from robbing a convenience store, I’ll swing by the seafood department for a pound or so of whatever looks good. Never go in with a fixed idea – select what’s available and what’s freshest, and then decide how to cook. This week, the cod was good lookin’. So how to make it? Simple, fresh, healthy – cuz it’s April and lighter meals on the menu. But it’s unseasonably cold and rainy this week so something hot and soupy calls out.

A favorite: fish in crazy water. This is simply fresh fish fillelts gently poached in a garlicky, tomato-y broth. Sparkling water is the “crazy” part here. Just add toasted peasant bread and…mmm. This dish is worth being featured in the weekly Police Blotter.

Pesce all’Acqua Pazza
Fish in “Crazy Water”
(4 servings)

1/3 Cup olive oil
Dash crushed red pepper flakes
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Cup dry white wine
1/4 Cup capers, rinsed and chopped
1 Cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 Cups sparkling mineral water
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1-1/2 pounds white fish fillets, about ½” thick
Fistful of fresh parsley and basil, chopped

Bring olive oil, red pepper, and garlic to a sizzle in a 12” sauté pan over MEDIUM heat.

Add wine and cook for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, capers, sparkling water, and salt.

Bring liquid to a gentle simmer; cook for 3 minutes, to get the flavors to meld.

Add the fish fillets in a single layer. The fish should be submerged halfway in the liquid. Reduce heat to MEDIUM-LOW.

Without allowing the liquid to return to a boil, cook the fish for 4 minutes.

Distribute the fish among 4 warm bowls.

Taste the  broth for seasonings, and correct if necessary. Ladle the broth over fish, and serve hot, sprinkled with pepper and garnished with the parsley and basil.

Serve with toasted, crusty bread.

Tierney’s Famous Codfish Balls

Codfish BallsSuzanne here, with a heriloom recipe! Can anyone remember every detail of Christmases past? I remember the colorful-and-always-tangled tree lights, the carrots left out for Santa’s reindeer, and the endless hours (okay, minutes) we spent lying awake, waiting for Mom and Dad to get up so we could race down to see what Santa brought us.

The truth is, my adult Christmas memories are better then those of my childhood. I can’t pinpoint the exact year, but best Christmas Eves started for me during college. I would return home from school, tired from exams, ready to see old friends, and enjoy some home cooking. Even in my 20’s, I’ll admit I still got as excited as a six-year old when Christmas Eve rolled around. I did enjoy opening a few well-thought out and much needed gifts from M&D. Mostly, though, I enjoyed the carefully planned and exquisitely executed eve menu at my house.

Cocktail hour was the best: my mom’s perfect codfish balls paired with Dad’s vintage champagnes was, and is, my favorite thing to eat and drink all year.

Now, back then, it was Mom who worked tirelessly in the kitchen, soaking, mashing, assembling, and frying these delicate fish delights. Fast forward a decade. Graduation, marriage, kids, and retirements changed the location and the chef in charge of the celebration, but the menu? Hardly a change at all. Read more

Mariscos en Escabeche for VNA Event!

Pickles and fish, you say? Wipe that look off your face – pickled fish is wonderful anytime, but especially in the summertime because you can make it ahead and let it meld. The Italians do a version of this, but I like the spicy Mexican version offered here. You can use fish or shellfish, but you must fry the fish – or, at least, grill it. This is not ceviche, where citrus juice is used to “cook” the fish.

We like to take this to events – we’re doing it for the Natick Visiting Nurses Association annual Fresh Taste event tonight –  because it’s a great make-ahead dish and people like to try new fish preparation. And next time you’re invited to a barbecue, bring this along. Read more

Ugly But Good

Every cuisine has colorful and descriptive names for food, but the Italians have elevated it to poetry. A fine example is their meringue-and-nut drop cookie called brutti ma buoni – “ugly but good”. Yes, and yes! These cookies are lumpy, brown, and nondescript on the plate, but pop one in your mouth and you immediately close your eyes and sigh. Sensuality distilled into three little words that capture the experience so succinctly.

Okay, that introduction was to prepare you for the following recipe, spuma di tonno, or tuna mousse. Spuma is the Italian word for foam, which sounds a lot more poetic than mousse. But “tuna foam” doesn’t really roll off the tongue in a good way, does it? However, this spread is almost as light as foam and it’s very delicious. There are those who don’t like tuna or believe that white albacore tuna packed in spring water is good. It is not. Italian tuna packed in olive oil is the real thing and it’s worth seeking out a good brand, paying a little more for it, and keeping it on the pantry shelf for making this quick appetizer. Since there are always crackers in the cupboard or baguettes in the freezer, this is one of those last-minute appetizers we always have on hand.
Of course, the spuma looks truly brutti. The capers on top don’t help much in the looks department. But one bite and you’ll discover how rich and bold and lemony it is, and you’ll wonder what you thought you were eating when you were eating all that dried-out albacore.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with the poem Italian Food by the late Shel Silverstein from his collection, Everthing On It:

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Crostini di Spuma di Tonno (Tuna Mousse)
(4-6 servings)

7-ounce can Italian tuna in oil, drained
1 Tablespoon softened butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted baguette slices or crackers
Drained capers, for a garnish

In bowl of food processor, pulse all the ingredients until smooth. Taste it carefully: could it use a little more lemon juice? Salt is probably not necessary.
Spread thinly sliced, toasted bread with pate; sprinkle tops with a few capers.  Serve immediately.