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With a beautiful spring day in full bloom, I finally had time to plant my new little herb garden – basil, oregano, parsley, tarragon, mint, rosemary and more.
As I planted each little plant, I smiled at the various food memories from years past - the overgrown mint patch in my mother’s backyard; basil-scented breezes on a long-ago trip to Cinqueterre; Grandmom’s roasted rosemary potatoes; grilled swordfish with parsley and oregano sauce seaside in Sicily. Little memories to cherish and build upon as the years pass by.
Then at the fishmonger today, I found beautiful freshly caught swordfish. With the thought of Sicily fresh in my mind, dinner was born - swordfish with a tangy lemon, parsley and oregano sauce known as salmoriglio. This delightful and versatile Sicilian sauce can be spooned over fish, chicken or even meats. I have used it as a dipping sauce for veggies. However, most often, I have had it served over grilled swordfish in Sicily.
The name, salmoriglio (sammurigghiu in Sicilian) derives from the Italian word ‘salamoia’ meaning salty or briny. Although its name may be difficult to say, its taste is heavenly – a briny mix indeed of lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs – most notably oregano and parsley. Oregano makes this sauce uniquely southern Italian. Some recipes call for dried oregano. I have tried making this with both dried and fresh – my preference is for the fresh oregano. The fresh oregano tastes a bit mellower to me.
Early recipes also call for the sauce to be whisked and simmered atop a double boiler. Being from the ‘never-dirty-an-extra-pot-that-will-need-to-be-washed’, I feel a thorough whisking to incorporate the ingredients works beautifully. If you’d like a smoother sauce, use a food processor or blender to mix the ingredients. This will also make the sauce a bit creamier. The hand mixed version is a clearer, chunkier sauce.
I have paired my swordfish with a simple chickpea puree – a quick whirl of chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil. It provides a simple backdrop upon which to layer the tangy sauce. Feel free to omit the puree if you choose if tight on time.
And however you decide to serve your salmoriglio, have fun trying to pronounce it – especially after a glass or two of crisp white Sicilian wine! Buon appetito!
Grilled Swordfish with Chickpea Puree and Salmoriglio Sauce
For the chickpea puree:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus extra
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15.5 ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup water
Juice ½ lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Salmoriglio sauce:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup of hot water
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
2 sprigs fresh oregano, finely chopped
Large handful fresh parsley, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
Sea salt and finely ground black pepper to taste
For the fish:
4 swordfish steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 lemons, halved
Prepare the chickpea puree:
In a medium saucepan over medium low, heat the oil. Add in the garlic and cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Add in the chickpeas and water. Simmer until chickpeas are a bit softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt. Place chickpea mixture in blender or food processor and blend until smooth. (‘Less dishes to wash’ version– Mash the chickpeas with a potato masher in the saucepan. The mixture will be chunkier but just as tasty.) Stir in lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If mixture is too thick, thin with a bit of water or extra-virgin olive oil. Cover to keep warm.
Tip: Should you need to reheat prior to serving, just heat over very low heat. If mixture is too thick, just add in a bit of water or extra virgin olive oil.)
Prepare the salmoriglio sauce:
In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients with the exception of the salt and pepper. Whisk until all the ingredients are incorporated. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.
Time to make the fish:
Preheat your grill – medium to high heat. Brush the swordfish steaks with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Rub the lemon halves with olive oil. Place the lemon halves and the swordfish steaks on the grill. Leave the lemons alone so they get nice and charred. Cook the swordfish until just cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side (depending on the thickness of your steaks.)
Spread some of the warmed chickpea puree on the plate. Top with a swordfish steak and spoon the sauce over the fish and puree. Serve the charred lemons alongside the fish. Buon appetito!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.