Fish sup­per

Rachel Roddy’s Si­cil­ian fry-up

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy Rachel Roddy is a food writer based in Rome and won the Guild of Food Writ­ers food writer and cook­ery writer awards for this col­umn. Her new book, Two Kitchens (Head­line Home) is out now; @rache­leats

One way to pre­pare for a meal at Sakalleo, a restau­rant in the south­ern Si­cil­ian town of Scoglitti, is to visit the docks at about 3.30pm to watch the sec­ond catch of the day – your din­ner – be­ing brought ashore. Hav­ing moored in the sickle-shaped ma­rina, large boats load their catch on to smaller ones, which are then rowed, bur­dened with the crates, to a con­crete jetty. There they are un­loaded for l’asta del pesce – the fish auc­tion – which takes place in a blue and white­washed con­crete build­ing next to the dock.

Any­one can join the bois­ter­ous auc­tion, although only some of the fish does, much of it al­ready des­tined for lo­cal restau­rants and other towns, most notably the blood-red prawns and black lob­sters still thrash­ing fu­ri­ously. What is to be auc­tioned is loaded on to low trol­leys su­per­vised by men in shorts and Adi­das flipflops, who then sell whole plas­tic crates of kite-like skate, co­ral and white mul­let, coils of spa­tola (sil­ver scab­bard­fish) and mack­erel with tiger stripes, to the best bid­der.

We have bought fish here on oc­ca­sion – the last time be­ing an en­tire crate of mack­erel, which I then tried and failed to pre­serve un­der oil – but mostly we come to watch. Stand­ing at the back with our toes in pud­dles, we hope to see what we will be eat­ing that night, as the own­ers of Sakalleo – one of whom is a most strik­ing woman called Gi­ada – su­per­vise the ar­rival of the crates from their own boat. Later, while you wait for din­ner with a lu­mi­nous spritz, bowl of peanuts and a saucer of sausage rolls made with that typ­i­cally Si­cil­ian, al­most sweet, pas­try, you can watch Sakalleo’s boat bob­bing in the ma­rina against a cam­pari-coloured sun­set.

I have writ­ten about Sakalleo, and Gi­ada, be­fore – and prob­a­bly will again – be­cause it is one of my favourite places to eat. This favouritism is mud­dled up with the fact that it is in Si­cily and as­so­ci­ated with Vin­cenzo’s fam­ily and long sum­mers, with warm nights after hot days, dur­ing which we do very lit­tle. Mostly, though, it is be­cause Sakalleo serves ex­cep­tional food – which can’t be said of some of the other places in this sea­side town. At Sakalleo, fish just hours from the sea is pre­pared by a fam­ily of staff in a way that man­ages to be as el­e­gant and homely as the place it­self. Even those other restau­rants in town will tell you that it was Sakalleo and Gi­ada’s late fa­ther, Pasquale Fer­rara, a hair-dresser-turned-mayor-turned-restau­ra­teur, who be­gan the now-com­mon lo­cal habit of hav­ing a set an­tipasti menu. Hav­ing been wel­comed by Gi­ada, you pay a rea­son­able set price, and then it be­gins – a seem­ingly end­less stream of dishes: plump red prawns with fat flecks of lemon zest and lo­cal olive oil; an­chovies cooked in three ways; sauted clams in a pud­dle of liquor; whole fried mul­let with a rel­ish of sweet onions … If you wish to con­tinue after the an­tipasti, you can – to pasta and braised oc­to­pus. But that is a whole other col­umn.

While eat­ing there is an ex­pe­ri­ence not to be missed, Sakalleo is also in­spir­ing for the home cook: the way they use orange and pome­gran­ate juice to flavour and mar­i­nate; serve fried fish with sweet-and-sour onions, pair cheese with pre­served an­chovy, or fried egg with bot­targa. Last year, I brought home the idea of al­monds and bread­crumbs on grilled fish; this year it was these pis­ta­chio and cut­tle­fish fritti served with a spritz of orange. It is a rather un­usual, odd-sound­ing dish, I know, but the flavours – the milky, mealy nuts, the firm but del­i­cate fish, the orange – min­gle beau­ti­fully. And they are fried – and fried things are a de­li­cious plea­sure.

The process is much the same as the fish­balls from a few weeks ago: you’re us­ing egg to bind, herbs for fra­grance, cheese for sea­son­ing and bread­crumbs

for bulk. Like all the best fritti, these should re­ally be eaten stand­ing around the stove, the first ones blot­ted and eaten while still hot enough to sizzle in your mouth. If you are fry­ing, then re­ally go for it (or del­e­gate to some­one like me who doesn’t mind get­ting smelly hair) and make the most of the hot oil: throw in some small fish or bat­tered sage leaves, a hand­ful of chips or match­sticks of cour­gette. Just make sure you have a sun­set spritz, beer or sparkling wine to hand.

Cut­tle­fish and pis­ta­chio fritti (Polpette di sep­pia e pis­tac­chio) Makes about 15

800g cut­tle­fish or squid

40g pis­ta­chios, shelled

40g pine nuts

100g pecorino or parme­san, grated

A small hand­ful of fresh basil and pars­ley, finely chopped

Dry bread­crumbs

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and pep­per

Sun­flower or peanut oil for fry­ing

Orange wedges to serve

1 Clean the cut­tle­fish and chop or mince the flesh into small pieces.

2 Us­ing a pes­tle and mor­tar or a blender, pound the pis­ta­chios and pine nuts to a paste. Add the cheese and herbs and pound/pulse again.

3 Tip the mix­ture into a bowl, add in the cut­tle­fish and beaten egg and use your hands to mix into a con­sis­tent mass. Add bread­crumbs as needed – the mix­ture should be nei­ther too wet nor too dry.

4 Break off large, wal­nut-size pieces of mix­ture then, us­ing wet hands, shape them into round, slightly flat­tened pat­ties. Leave them to rest for 15 min­utes.

5 Heat about 3cm of oil in a deep fry­ing pan or saucepan to 190C/375F. Pre­pare a plate lined with kitchen pa­per. Work­ing in batches, a few at a time, fry the pat­ties in oil un­til light brown, turn­ing if nec­es­sary, then drain on the kitchen pa­per. Move to a serv­ing plate, sprin­kle with salt, if you wish, and serve im­me­di­ately with orange wedges.

At the fish auc­tion I bought an en­tire crate of mack­erel, which I tried and failed to pre­serve un­der oil

Cook’s tip When shap­ing pat­ties, wet your hands to stop the mix­ture stick­ing

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