Magic sprin­kles

Rachel Roddy’s bread­crumbed fish

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is a food blog­ger based in Rome and the au­thor of Five Quar­ters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome (Salt­yard, 2015) and win­ner of the 2015 An­dré Si­mon food book award

In the hope that this col­umn is be­gin­ning to feel like a se­ries, rather than string of un­re­lated episodes, I am start­ing where I left off last week, with bread­crumbs. More specif­i­cally, bread­crumbs with al­monds, which makes them sound a bit fussy, though they aren’t. Quite the op­po­site in fact – a hand­ful of crumbs, some chopped al­monds and a pinch of salt are easy and ac­com­mo­dat­ing. Last week, I sug­gested toast­ing crumbs in olive oil, then putting them on pasta with slowly cooked cour­gettes, or their over­sized Si­cil­ian cousins, cu­cuzze. This week, I am go­ing to re­turn the idea to the place I bor­rowed it from, and sug­gest you put them on fish, which you then bake.

Sword­fish with bread­crumbs and al­monds was one of the first meals I ate dur­ing my first visit to Si­cily 12 years ago. I was in Cata­nia, at one of the trat­to­ria that ap­pear from nowhere once the fish mar­ket closes for the day. That slice of sword­fish, seem­ing slightly suf­fo­cated by its top­ping, sur­prised me – es­pe­cially af­ter the wild ex­cite­ment of the the­atri­cal fish mar­ket that morn­ing. It was like meet­ing up with your grandma af­ter a night out with friends. But it was de­li­cious – I still re­mem­ber the flavour. Lots more bread­crumbs and al­monds fol­lowed – not al­ways to­gether – on that trip, and those that came af­ter I hooked up with a Si­cil­ian. Si­cil­ians use bread­crumbs all the time; a re­source­ful habit born of ne­ces­sity and the idea that you never throw away bread. I have picked up the habit; I al­ways have a big bag of bread­crumbs in the kitchen. They’re al­most ir­ri­tat­ingly good at ev­ery­thing: stuff­ing, puff­ing, coat­ing, top­ping and a tool to stop things stick­ing.

I bor­rowed the idea from a restau­rant in a town called Scoglitti, 30 miles along the coast from us here in Gela. The own­ers’ daugh­ter, who is part French, is ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous, with her red lips, denim hot pants and an­kle boots. There is not much room for ma­noeu­vre; she tells us in a deep voice: “I know what you want.” And you don’t doubt it. The an­tipasti start ar­riv­ing, lit­tle dish af­ter lit­tle dish: an oys­ter each; blood-red prawns; slices of raw tuna and sword­fish; cubes of oc­to­pus and but­ter­flies of an­chovy; enor­mous, yel­low mus­sels; tiny clams called telline; rolled sar­dines; and spa­tola with al­monds and bread­crumbs served with sweet onions. Spa­tola is a long, flat fish as sil­ver and shiny as a newly minted coin. At mar­kets and in shops spa­tola are of­ten coiled, mak­ing them look a bit like a neat draw­ful of glit­tery belts. Ours were served topped with bread­crumbs and al­monds, then baked un­til the fish had fallen into del­i­cate, but firm flakes, the crumbs a comfy crust. It was homely and good. My son stashed clamshells to take home in his pocket; I put the idea in mine.

I like it when a new idea, flung into the kitchen like a rub­ber ball, bounces around en­thu­si­as­ti­cally see­ing where it fits, or doesn’t. First, there was pasta, then I used bread­crumbs and al­monds to stuff aubergines and toma­toes, then came the fish: spa­tola, bream and mack­erel. All three fish worked, but the mack­erel was best. Fish and bread­crumbs need a foil, some­thing to of­fer con­trast: sweet, sour, salty, pun­gent. A salad of toma­toes, red onion and capers is a bril­liant and typ­i­cally Si­cil­ian com­bi­na­tion. If you wanted you could bulk out the salad with bread too, or top it with salted ricotta. What­ever fish you use, it all comes to­gether quickly, but pro­vides slow, good-flavoured food that sat­is­fies but doesn’t sink you, which is what I ask for on th­ese long, and fiercely hot, sum­mer days.

Fish with a bread­crumb and al­mond crust Serves 4

60g blanched al­monds, chopped 1 un­waxed lemon 150g dry bread­crumbs Salt and black pep­per A pinch of oregano (op­tional) Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil 4-8 fil­lets of fish (mack­erel, bream, spa­tola, bass)

To serve

1 large red onion or sev­eral shal­lots Vine­gar 4 large ripe toma­toes A hand­ful of capers Olive oil

1 Line a bak­ing tray with grease­proof pa­per or foil and pre­heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

2 Peel and slice the onion into half moons, then soak for 20 min­utes in wa­ter acidu­lated with 3 tbsp vine­gar.

3 Mix the al­monds, lemon zest and bread­crumbs with a pinch of salt, some pep­per and the oregano, if us­ing.

4 Brush the fil­lets with oil, then press the fil­let side into the bread­crumb mix, so it is well coated. Lay the fil­lets skin-side down on the bak­ing tray. Zigzag with olive oil. Bake un­til cooked through and the crumbs are golden – 10-15 min­utes de­pend­ing on the thick­ness of the fil­lets.

5 Chop the toma­toes over a plate to catch the juices. Drain the onion and capers, then mix with the toma­toes. Dress with olive oil and a pinch of salt, add a dash of vine­gar if you like.

6 Serve the fish with the tomato salad and wedges of lemon.

Cook’s tip Soak­ing the onions in cold wa­ter and vine­gar re­moves the eye-wa­ter­ing sharp­ness and gives a milder flavour – they are crisp, too.

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