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The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!\

COOK'S GUIDE

Seafood Italiano

by Annette Lucido

 
Last November, when my husband Louis returned from a business trip to Tokyo, Beijing and Bangkok by way of Rome, I got the chance to meet him in Venice on our way to Madrid, London and home. What an enchanting city!
 
We had time to ride a gondola down canals past the homes of Vivaldi and Mozart lead to an evening of music in the church where Vivaldi directed the choir. A special night visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum will not ever be forgotten. Louis even caught some - well, one -- sole in the Canal, and the fish markets in Venice pointed out the richness of the local seafood, and his minimal results!
 
The Europa, like the Gritti or Danelli Palace and other wonderful hotel restaurants where we ate fish twice a day, offered particularly fine fish. Our favorite was Sfogi in Saor, a specialty of Venice that preserves fried sole in hot vinegar. It is traditional in the midsummer festival for which Handel wrote his Water Music.
 
The dish makes a wonderful first course when you entertain as you make it 48 hours before serving. Since it is cold, it suits summer evenings or days when anglers return at odd hours and do not want to wait for dinner.
Our other three recipes are basic Italian cookery tools you can use to cook a variety of fish and shellfish with pasta, rice or potato respectively. In Italy the dishes change with the days catch. So, do not be afraid to experiment.
 
Squid in Ink, a favorite traditional dish of Venice does not travel well because it uses Italian seppie that is really a cuttlefish with two long "arms." Its ink is the source of sepia, as old masters used to use cuttlefish ink for drawing. You can, with a little dissection, remove and use cuttlefish ink sacs for the sauce or for your own homemade pasta that contrasts so nicely with the squid.
Unfortunately, we do not have a good source of cuttlefish. Therefore, we prefer the following dish made with mixed seafood. Serve the dish with black, standard or, our
alternative, green spinach pasta. Note: we suspect the store-bought black pasta is more food coloring than squid ink! Like the risotto and gnocchi that follow, it's a dish that offers incredible flexibility with multiple substitutions of squid, shrimp, shellfish and fish.
 
Risotto only requires close attention and short grain rice. We like Arbrigo rice best, but other short rice works. This recipe easily expands to feed multitudes too. Our final choice was a uniquely Northern Italian fish gnocchi as well. It is sort of a fish and potato dumpling cooked in broth that melts in your mouth.
 
Finally, to offer up the last Italian seafood system of recipe, I am offering seafood Gnocchi a wonderfully tender dish.
 
For Americans used to the usual Southern Italian food common in the US, these kinds of dishes seem a particular treat. Then too, aside from the architecture and the alps in the far distance Venice's Lagoon looks a lot like shallow gulf bays so their fish stalls are full of shrimp, squid, cuttlefish and at least 50 different kinds of other fish that seem ideally suited for Gulf Coast Readers.
 
Sfogi in Saor or Cold Fried Fish in Vinegar
 
Please don't let the recipe put you off and do realize this is an exceptional way to serve today's fried fish in a day or two!
2 pounds flounder
1 cup all purpose flour - for coating
3 cups vegetable oil 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 or 4 onions - Valdostas or mild onions for choice - thin sliced.
1-3 teaspoons sugar
1-1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup pine nuts or pecans
1/2 cup raisins - I like golden, Louis likes dark.
Cut the flounder into three or four inch pieces handy for frying. Pat dry and dredge them in flour. Cook fish in a skillet or fryer until they are golden brown on both sides. I like an electric frying pan for this. The key is not overcooking. Drain the fish on paper towels.
 
Remove the oil, "swoosh" the pan out with a paper towel and add the olive oil. As the pan warms over low heat add the onions and cook them until they are limp. Then add the sugar and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the vinegar and cook until you have half as much.
 
Note: The vinegar/sugar mix gives you a wonderful sweet and sour result. You can adjust this with more or less sugar. My husband Lou likes brown sugar best. You can also vary the vinegar. We've tried malt, balsamic and tarragon vinegars with good results.
 
Now arrange the fish in one layer of a dish - don't use metal unless it's stainless steel. Spoon the onions over the fish. Pour on the vinegar to cover everything. Then top with raisins or pine nuts.
For same day serving, leave the platter at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. Otherwise, stick it in the refrigerator for two days.
 
Traditionally, this dish is served with polenta - sort of Italian coarse corn "grits." We like it better with saffron rice.
 
Seafood Risotto
 
This only takes an hour to make -- 20 minutes if you "precook" parts -- and while the standard garnish calls for mussels, squid and shrimp you can use any reasonable combination of fish to make this dish. For example, we catch rays, skin the wings and cut them into strips along the line of the backbone and pop out the cartilage. Then we chop these and use them in place of scallops. Conch works. So does Redfish. The only items that are critical are the stock for the rice and the usual olive oil.
 
Risotto
1 medium onion, diced
Short grain rice
2 to 3 cups of fish stock
Butter for mold or bowl
 
Seafood Garnish
1 pound firm fish pieces or stingray "scallops"
Olive oil
garlic cloves
1/2 pound small squid, cleaned
Pound raw shrimp
Oregano
One tomato, chopped
 
In a skillet over medium heat, soften onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the rice. Rise heat to high and toast, but do not burn the rice. Add a little stock. Let this evaporate and add stock in dribbles until the risotto cooks. This should take 20 to thirty minutes. Put the risotto into a bowl. Now heat oven to 400 degrees.
 
Prepare chunks of firm fish or stingray "scallops" -- and put them into the same skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil and a mashed garlic clove. Cook over high heat until they open. Drain, strain and reserve the mussel juices. Dump the shellfish into a bowl
 
Clean the squid and chop into rings. Clean the shrimp if needed. To the same hot skillet, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the rest of the garlic. Grind in some pepper and add oregano. Add the tomato and, as sauce boils, the shrimp. Immediately thin with mussel juices, salt and cook 4 minutes. Then pour over the risotto.
 
Butter a mold - we use a fish-shape ovenware piece - and fill the mold with the risotto. Note: this can be done ahead to this point.
 
Place the mold in a larger pan filled with water. Bake the mold for 20 minutes - you may need to bake it 30 minutes if you make the parts ahead and they aren't at room temperature. Let stand, invert the mold onto a serving platter and serve. We garnish this dish with slices of lemon or lime and serve it with hot French bread.
 
Seafood Gnocchi
 
Gnocchi are basicly little dumplings and both a taste treat and a way to convert less treasured species of fish into something wonderful. As with our other recipes the sauce is the basic approach and you can warm your leftover seafood of choice in it before serving.
 
Gnocchi
1 onion - for taste not consumption so "mature" onions work.
Olive oil
garlic cloves
Bay leaf
1-1/2 pound of fillets of soft fish like sole or whiting or whatever
1/3 cup white wine
Parsley
Nutmeg
2 cups potatoes
2 cups flour plus a bit
2 eggs
 
Sauce:
1 shallot or two green onions, finely chopped
Olive oil
Fresh sage and rosemary or other favorite seasoning like dill
2 anchovy fillets
1-1/2 cups tomato sauce 1 cup whipped cream -- milk for the diet conscious
 
Cook the onion with the olive oil, garlic, bay leaf, fish, wine and seasonings until the fish is tender. Cook the potatoes in saltwater about 20 minutes or until tender. Peel the potatoes and work them through a ricer or sieve onto a floured work surface.
 
Break the fish up with a fork and add to the potatoes. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mash all of the above up with a fork, add the parsley and the flour and eggs. Dough should be firm, but not sticky. Roll the dough into about six or eight long cylinders. Then cut the cylinders into short sections and press each section with a fork back to make ridges.
 
Cook the pieces a few at a time in a big pot of boiling, salted water. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
 
Cook the shallot in olive oil with sage leaves, rosemary and anchovy. Pour in the tomatoes and thicken with cream. Simmer for two or three minutes pour over the gnocchi and serve.
This last recipe is particularly good if you cook small shrimp or add other cooked fish pieces when you cook the shallot.
 
Mange!

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