Few scents evoke an emotional response like that of bread as it rises to perfection in a hot oven. Taste buds awaken, eyes widen, stomachs rumble,...
Calabria sits at the toe of the Italian boot. This relatively undiscovered region is bathed in a stark pristine beauty from its sea through to its granite covered mountains. The crystal clear Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast is beyond breathtaking. Magical shades of blue intermingle with sparkles of sunlight like diamonds lying amongst the soft sand below.
From a perch atop the limestone cliffs in hidden Tropea, you can see the swimmers below bob like little corks in a baby blue glass of champagne. The sea stretches to forever interrupted only by the peaceful Aeolian Islands lying gently in the mist on the sea.
One can easily imagine the majestic swordfish (pesce spada) wanting to migrate through this region in late spring and early summer on the way south to the Strait of Messina, a narrow strip of sea that separates the coast of Calabria from the northeastern corner of the island of Sicily. This revered species has been important to this region for centuries. The fish are hunted from a uniquely shaped boat with an unusually tall mast. The ‘spotters’ must climb to the top of the mast to have a broader view of the waters below. When a fish is spotted, the boat glides gently alongside allowing the harpooner to bring in this majestic catch from the sea.
The people of Calabria do not take the presence of this bounty for granted. The seaside town of Bagnara even hosts an annual swordfish festival to celebrate the year’s catch. Throughout Calabria, it is not difficult to find the freshest of swordfish on menus; served simply grilled and dressed with only a drizzle of lemon and oil or in more typical Calabrian preparations; served with pasta or peppers or steamed as in the recipe below.
In reading through my journal from my visit to Calabria back in 2007, I counted having swordfish at least 4 times in our short visit to the breathtaking region. The succulent taste of a fresh swordfish steak simply prepared is unparalleled. In Italy, the swordfish steaks are typically sliced more thinly than they are in America. I ask our fishmonger to slice the steaks in half if they are too thick as I think the thinner preparation allows for the delicate texture of the fish to shine through.
This dish is a very quick preparation and is ready in less than 15 minutes. I was thrilled to find fresh swordfish at our local market recently and this delicate unusual preparation was the perfect complement to the fish. Uncork a bottle of crisp white, cue up some fishing songs on the ipod and get the crusty bread ready to soak up the wonderful broth!
Swordfish with Capers, Garlic and Lemon - Calabrian Style
(Pesce Spada con capperi, aglio e limone)
4 fresh swordfish steaks with skin on (about 2 pounds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
3 cloves of garlic, diced or thinly sliced
4 tablespoons of capers (rinsed if packed in salt; drained if using from a jar)
½ lemon, thinly sliced plus lemon juice from the other half of the lemon
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 baking dish large enough to hold the swordfish steaks
1 larger roasting pan that will hold the baking dish with the swordfish steaks
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Season the swordfish with salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides.
Add the olive oil to the baking dish. Place the swordfish in the dish and turn to coat.
Scatter the garlic and capers around the swordfish. Place the lemon slices atop the swordfish. Squeeze the lemon juice from half of the lemon on top.
Fill the roasting pan with water up to about 1” up the sides. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop burners and turn heat to high until the water boils. (Alternatively, you can boil water in tea kettle or pot and pour into the pan.)
Carefully set the baking dish with the swordfish into the roasting pan. Cover the roasting pan with foil, sealing around the sides. Carefully place in the oven.
Bake until the swordfish is cooked through, about 10 minutes depending on the thickness. Remove from the oven and remove the foil. Taste the broth and add additional salt if necessary. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve the fish in a warm serving bowl. Spoon the yummy garlicky broth over top and serve with nice crusty bread.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Joe lives in LA; Michele in eastern Pennsylvania. Together, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.