That. That time of day. One of my favourite times of day. Time for a glass of wine. Time to look forward to making supper.
Some time last week we had a fish-themed dinner. It included boiled fish. Boiled fish. Now, does that sound tantalising? Ahem. I expect “no/no way” to readers outside of Italy. The fish in question is called ‘orata’ and translates as seabream or gilthead seabream. Gilt stands for gold leaf, because the fish’s scales can indeed be very shiny and on the golden side. It’s a great fish to smother with salt and bake in the oven and that’s how I would usully cook it. On this occasion, however, I decided to just boil it. I placed the gutted fish (there were two of them, they were not very big) in a large saucepan and poured boiling water over them. I added some parsely and black pepper corns and covered them with a lid. It took about twenty minutes for them to cook through until the flesh turned pearly white. I filleted the fish as best I could and served it at room temperature with home-made mayonnaise. Very understated and yet most delicious. So, try it some time, it’s very much a no-fuss/can’t go wrong way to cook fish.
Anyway … what was left of the filleted fishes was their heads and bones and tails and skins, i.e. the full monty of leftovers that should never be thrown away. I just gathered it all and transferred it to another saucepan and cooked it for about half an hour (again with a lid on). And hey presto, what do we have? Fish broth – ta daaa.
Once cooled, I strained the fish stock and put it in the fridge. And forgot about it until last night. I had had other plans for the fish stock but in the end sloth took over. Blame that beautiful sunset for that.
“You know what?”, said my sensible if at times overbearing inner voice, “why don’t you use it to make a risotto!” LIke you, I would never dream of disagreeing with my inner voice (oh it can get so holier than thou, can’t it, anything to keep it in a good mood). I had bought some clams and was going to make spaghetti with them. Instead, and with the addition of a lonesome courgette/zucchina that popped out of nowhere in the bottom drawer of the fridge, I underwet a risotto conversion. And this is what I did.
I chopped up a small onion and braised it with some olive oil. Then I added the courgette that I had sliced and diced into small lego-looking chunks. While that was cooking away, I went to get the fish stock in order to heat it and bring it to the boil. And what did I find? It had turned into a thick unyielding jelly!!! That’s right – fish stock will solidy into a jelly of sorts.
And that’s when the penny dropped. The name for gelatine leaf in Italian is “fish glue” (colla di pesce) and now I can see why. I get really excited over etymology, you’ll have to pardon me.
Anyway, back to the recipe. I couldn’t get all of the jelly fish stock out of the bottle in which I had placed it, so I poured boiling water into it and that did the trick. I then transferred the fish stock to another pan and brought it to the boil, ready to be used.
By now the onion and courgette were ready to welcome the rice. I like to use either the vialone nano or carnaroli rice variety. I used the latter because it’s the first one I found in my store cupboard. In it went and it got toasted for the appropriate of time and then I poured in all the hot fish stock. None of that one-ladle-at-a-time risotto stuff. Not tonight. My name happens to be Josephine and it was very much the case of “not tonight, Josephine”.
While the risotto was getting cooked in a bubble, bubble, toil and thankfully no-trouble way, I steamed open the clams. You just plonk them in a pan and cover with a lid until the shells open. When the rice was finally cooked, I added the clams, their liquor, shells and all, to the risotto. It looked very pretty, I have to say. (Oh, I had also added a small tomato, all chopped up … I don’t know why I did that. I just did. Oh yes, and I had also added a slice of lemon zest. And oh, of course, some parsely. Clams just love parsely.)
Fun fact number one: Clams are full of iron. Good for haemoglobin in our red blood cells.
Fun fact number two: gelatine is good for us (for our bones, hair and nails I believe).
My inner voice was on cloud nine, it was holier than all the thou’s in the world! Not only had I been thrifty (by actually making a fish stock), not only was I inventing a new risotto recipe (creative juices all fired up), I was indeed also taking care of my body’s overall health. And then I tasted the risotto. One must always taste before serving. Actually, even during cooking. Well. How disappointing! The risotto was bland. I added a bit of salt but that didn’t help. Still bland. I was crest-fallen.
And then … rebellious genius idea came to the rescue.
Grated pecorino cheese.
Pecorino, mind, not parmigiano.
Let me explain. In Italy the very thought of adding cheese to any fish dish will make people’s eyes pop out. Heresy. Very recently, a young crop of Italian chefs has indeed toyed with the idea but the only cheese I have seen added is either buffalo mozzarella or burrata … i.e. very creamy fresh cheeses that are a little on the bland side, let’s face it.
So, within the context of Italian traditional cuisine, my wanting to add a hard cheese to a fish dish makes me a rebel, see? Quite the iconoclast.
Mindi you, there is an exception to this caseous culinary rule. Here in Lazio, there is a pasta dish that is indeed served with cheese and that is spaghetti with mussels and pecorino. For some cheesy reason, this dish is thoroughly approved of.
Hence my choosing pecorino over parmigiano.
I can’t remember how much I added. I do remember adding a little at a time. I didn’t want the cheese to overwhelm the delicate taste of the risotto. The risotto was still hot and steaming, so the pecorino melted in no time at all.
And, in the end, finally, was it good?
Yest it was. Hip hip hurrah! Feeling very pleased with myself (and my inner voice over the moon).
Below are two links to older posts I wrote about pasta with mussels and pecorino cheese.
These are photos I took this morning, of the leftovers. Please bear that in mind because the risotto looked a lot more come-hither when I was serving it piping hot!
Here you catch a glimpse of the lemon zest (in the centre).