Since I live an extremely glamorous life, I recently drove to Milan with my dear friend Steffi for a spot of shopping. And by Milan I mean 40 minutes out of Milan near the birthplace of that famed cheese, the voluptuous Gorgonzola. A side-effect of being so spoilt and fancy is my inability to suffer 4-star hotels of any sort (the plush carpeting, hushed hallways, jacuzzis and obsequious staff are just too much to bear – nothing at all to do with financial constraints you understand) so we stayed with Steffi’s amusing sister who, by virtue of being married to one and having three as children, is an honorary Italian.
She lives the sweet life in one of those houses where most of the living seems to be done outdoors, or at least, on the verandah; both of the two meals we took there were al fresco and lovely meals they were too – perfect examples of the Italian genius for not tampering with ingredients too much.
I was rather pleased also to learn that the soup-cum-stew we were eating was made from frozen seafood. You might think such a pronouncement further proof of my madness but since I live somewhere far far from the sea, I don’t trust that the fish is particularly fresh and have heretofore avoided it.
Struck however by the similarity of the dish to the Cacciucco that I once ate in Livorno and fondly remember as one of my top three stumbled-upon-restaurants-in-a-strange-town meals, I tried my hand at it a few times and here is the result.
Do you prefer to holiday where you know someone or are you a lone cowboy?
Sicilian Fish Stew
This is a good seafood dish for those of you who live inland and only have access to substandard or frozen fish – like me. Squid and octopus need to be cooked fast and furious (deep fried or barbequed on a very hot grill) or slow and low so don’t be horrified at what might seem like an awfully long cooking time- I was similarly worried when I first attempted this dish and stopped cooking too early to detrimental effect. I have no idea if it really is Sicilian so don’t quote me – that’s what Steffi’s sister’s husband told me!
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly plus a clove to rub the bread
A handful of Italian parsley, minced
A sprinkle of chilli flakes
100 ml passata or good canned tomatoes you’ve passed through a mouli (foodmill)
100 ml fish stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
500 grams defrosted pre-cooked frozen seafood (I used a mixture of white fish, shrimps, cooked squid and baby octopus and mussels)
Slices of baguette or ciabatta, split in half or in thick slices
Heat a centimetre (1/2 an inch) of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium and add the garlic, parsley and chilli and cook for a minute or two.
Add the passata, vinegar and stock, taking care not to get burnt by spattering oil.
Bring up to a simmer then add the baby octopus in a single layer and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes turning once or twice. Add the squid, making sure it’s still all in a single layer and cook another 25 minutes. If the level of liquid looks like it’s getting low, top up a bit with water.
Meanwhile, toast the slices of bread over a gas flame or under the grill in the oven on both sides until quite toasty and rub with the clove of garlic.
Place a piece in the bottom of each bowl.
Add the fish to the sauce and simmer for two or three minutes then add the mussels and shrimps and cook for just a minute or so to heat through.