You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

domenica 26 settembre 2010

The Scallion Speaks

Fridays used to be fish-only days for practicing Roman Catholics. And though most Italians don’t practice, they continue the fish thing on Fridays. You are sure to find a fish primo and/or a fish secondo on many menus where fish normally doesn’t play much of a role, if any.

This habit extends into our very own kitchen. The Scallion is the Fish Guy, so Friday nights are my night off. He consults a variety of cookbooks, but always goes first to Alan Davidson’s magnificent Mediterranean Seafood (egregiously out of print; he uses the Italian translation il Mare in Pentola
[1]). And then he makes things up.

We’re eating a lot of this, lately. (We have a dear Florentine friend, a lawyer and a buona forchetta (literally, good fork; i.e., gourmand). His idea of diet food is hake with mayonnaise. Perhaps he should try the green sauce?)

At any rate, Fridays are my night off; what follows comes from the Italian Scallion himself.

Hake with green sauce
Maledictus piscis in secunda aqua pronounced Alberto Denti di Pirajno in Italy’s first post-World War II cookbook , Il Gastronomo Educato (“The Polite/Educated Gourmet,” Vicenza, 1951).[2] The Romans, he informs us, damned water-swigging diners who allowed boiled fish to return to “third” water, in their stomachs, where it should find only wine: maledictus piscis in terza aqua. This worldly gastronome insists that having once been removed from its natural habitat, fish should never be cooked in unadulterated water (secunda aqua). To avoid this culinary solecism, Denti di Pirajno included recipes for five liquids to cook fish in, and he used the French term court-bouillon for lack of an appropriate Italian word. He added two caveats: a court-bouillon should never encounter a high flame but must always merely simmer slowly on low flame; (before simmering) the fish should be wrapped in muslin or in cheesecloth as otherwise it might fall apart when removing it from the liquid.

Hake, meanwhile, boils nicely. It is easy to prepare as it needs no scaling. Once cooked, it is easy to skin and to fillet; its bones are relatively few and easy to spot.

Gut the hake and rinse the fish and its orifice thoroughly. Place in the simmering broth.
I cooked the hake in Denti di Pirajno’s court-bouillon #2: “Bring to gentlest boil for one hour two liters of water, a glass of vinegar, two carrots and two onions sliced, a stalk of celery chopped, oregano, thyme, basil, two leaves of sage, two of bay, and a clove of garlic crushed.”

Twenty minutes is a few too many for a 1.5 lb. hake. (My wife thought it fine.) I am sorry I cannot provide fuller cooking advice than this. Once again, maintaining a mere simmer extends the margins of safe cooking time. Do not hesitate to press an object against the fish while it cooks so as to learn from repeated experiment what degree of softness indicates doneness. For this purpose, Denti di Pirajno recommended a thin skewer; I prefer the back of the same wooden spoon as it avoids a tear in the skin of the fish.

A Green Sauce

One cup of loosely-packed parsley leaves will make about 1/3 cup of green sauce which is about enough for three people, four at a stretch. This should not take more than ten minutes to make if you are not using a blender and you are doing nothing else…

The idea is to adapt this recipe to your liking as you go along & eventually come up with your own. I recommend the inclusion of vinegar-soaked bread for its contribution to consistency and flavor.

1 c. loosely-packed flat parsley leaves
1 T. chopped capers (if salt-packed, rinse and allow to soak for 10 minutes, then squeeze before chopping)
1 t. anchovy paste or one anchovy fillet (if salt-packed, treat as capers)
2 T. crustless bread soaked in vinegar (I prefer wine vinegar, but that’s just me)
2.5 T. extra-virgin olive oil
5 black peppercorns mortar’d and pestle’d or milled pepper to taste

Yields about 1/3 cup

Either place all ingredients except pepper corns in a blender, pulse to saucy consistency, then mix in the crushed pepper when you transfer the sauce to its serving vessel;

Or chop the parsley, move it to a mortar, squeeze the bread then place it in the mortar, add the capers and the anchovy paste and pound away until you get a paste. Add the oil one tablespoon at a time and mix in with pestle or spoon. Make room in the mortar for the peppercorns. Pound them, then mix them in.

Some add lemon zest or a chopped hard-boiled egg. You may also wish to include or substitute some parsley with fresh basil, thyme, mint, or tarragon.

[1] Trans. Isa Ciapetti, Milano, 2005.
[2] He was born in Genoa in 1886 to a Sicilian navy officer, studied medicine at the University of Florence, then worked in Rome and Milan. He was the Duke of Aosta’s personal physician while in Africa in 1924; that part of his life ended when he handed over Tripoli to General Montgomery in 1943. He then experienced his “second English education” as a British prisoner of war in North Africa, returned to Rome in 1946, where he died in 1968. He was, as his publisher Neri Pozza, writes on the book jacket flap, “[un] vero signore e vero scrittore, è autore di romanzi, libri di memorie e trattati di gastronomia …” (a true gentleman and authentic writer, the author of novels, memoirs, and gastronomic treatises).

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