Anyone who has lived in Italy for any length of time, or even visited it for a brief spell with a gastronomic field trip in mind, will come to know that fish and cheese are not bed mates in this country. Horror of horrors to any law abiding Italian is – perish the thought – the addition of parmesan or other cheese to any pasta dish featuring a creature of the deep or even surface seawater. The only exception I am aware of is pasta using mussels and pecorino.
And then, out of the blue, my English friend Michelle Smith who has lived here for over 35 years tells me that one of her favourite seafood pasta dishes involves swordfish and pecorino. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. “Doesn’t the pecorino overwhelm the swordfish?”, I enquire with eyebrow raised and lips pursed to one side of my mouth in disbelief. She assures me that it does not though of course one mustn’t overdo it with the grated pecorino. Hmmm.
The thing is … my family are not great lovers of swordfish. The last time I even ate swordfish was in Sicilly, during a memorable holiday in July of 2014. We had lunch at the family restaurant on the water which is featured in so many Inspector Montalbano TV series, called “Enzo a Mare” (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/montalbano-land-and-enzo-a-mare/).
And then Friday afternoon (Tuesdays and Fridays are the traditional days for eating fish in Italy) I decided we simply had to have some fresh fish for dinner. So off I trotted to Monteporzio Catone, a little town up the hill from Frascati, where I know I can find a very good fishmonger open in the afternoon.
The first thing I espy are oysters, French ones at that, and so I make my mind up on the spot that I shall need a few of those just to get me going on the supper.
I look around and decide that, though I may not marry pasta with it, it’s about high time I had a go at swordfish and pecorino. And while we’re at it, why not get some juicy anchovies to fry, dusted with flour?
And this is my bounty once I got home (aside from the oysters above):
A big fat thick slice of swordfish, some gutted anchovies and a lovely bunch of saltwort – barba di frati or agretti, as they are called in Italian.
The agretti are blanched in salted water, draind and set aside.
The anchovies are thoroughly dusted with flour.
They are then deep fried in groundnut (peanut) oil at the appointed time.
I also found some lovely asparagus, which I trimmed and washed and then sliced into two or three constituent parts. I proceeded to simmer them in salted water for a minimum time, drain them and quickly plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process.
I know that I shall have need of both lemon, oranges and parsely. The lemon was from the Costiera amalfitana and the orange from Sicily. What a lucky girl I am indeed.
Once the asparagus had cooled down, I placed them around the edge of a large platter. And added some orange slices in the middle.
And now it was time for a bit of cheesy alchemy. Olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsely, grated pecorino romano cheese … and a squeeze of orange juice. And a squeeze of lemon juice.
Process all the ingredients. Taste … and add a bit of water, a bit of salt.
The final flourish is the glug of olive oil (evoo naturally). Stir and stir, taste and taste, add a bit of this, add a bit of that … and Bob’s your uncle. This is definitely not the typical Sicilian salmoriglio sauce but … even so … most adequate. The pecorino is hardly detectable as an individual ‘cheese’ component, and yet imparts some sense of oily gluttony that is just the business for this sauce.
Pat the swordfish steak until it is dry on both sides, using kitchen paper.
Time to get dinner on the table!
Plenty of olive oil and plenty of dried oregano (I don’t have fresh at this time of year, sorry).
Once the heat has got going, add the steak and cook on one side over a fairly high heat. For .. sorry, I can’t remember how long. But not too long … maybe three minutes? Enjoy the sizzling sound.
And then turn it over. And let it cook on the other side until the pink in the middle of the steak goes a pale white. Another three minutes? Whatever. I don’t like raw fish unless I am eating sushi or ‘crudo’ or ceviche but I do know that swordfish must not be overcooked either. Sprinkle a little salt at this stage.
Once I think it is done … I cut the steak in half. Half for me and half for my favourite husband.
Plonk the halved steak on the seving dish, over the slices of orange and surrounded by blanched asparagus.
Serve on the individual plate.
Pour the green sauce.
It was lovely. Not overpowering, and the tang of the orange and lemon making it very fresh. And the ‘secret’, very discreet, ingredient, the grated pecorino, contributing that sense of fatty satisfaction that can only delight a palate. I was lucky, I had intuited how much pecorino to mix into the sauce. Any more and it would have been too much.