Pasta al Lido: approximately Sicilian

I first went to Sicily in 2004, shortly before I met my husband. I went with my friend Sophie, an all-round fabulous person who knows Italy inside-out and backwards: she spent a year in Rome, primarily researching devils in Mediaeval art, but also generally becoming an expert on good food, good wine and finding your way around a branch of Mondadori.* She made an excellent guide, and I loved the place so much that I spent the next three years trying to encourage Stephen to go back there with me. I finally managed to convince him that Palermo and the Aeolian Islands would make the ideal honeymoon destination, and indeed he was just as smitten as I had been. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to find all of the same restaurants Sophie and I had eaten at, which meant that I didn’t manage to eat Casarecce al Lido again.

I’ve spent ages trying to work out the recipe for this dish: it was an unusual combination of tomatoes, white fish and fresh mint, and I had never tasted anything quite like it. I’m still working on my version, but I thought I’d post what I have so far. There are a couple of fairly big caveats: firstly, I’m reconstructing this from memory, and, secondly, I couldn’t get all of the right ingredients in Cardiff. Do bear this in mind while you’re reading, or, if you’re Sicilian and a fan of the dish, snorting in derision. Perhaps somebody out there might know the actual recipe, and might be able to give me some advice!

Pasta al Lido

  • About 250g white fish. Ideally this should be swordfish, but I couldn’t find any so I used cod. From a taste point of view, this was fine, but it was rather too flaky, as you can see from the picture above.
  • 500g tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 50g chopped pistachio nuts. I’ve been swithering over these, but I’m fairly sure there were pistachios in the dish I had, and they certainly were tasty.
  • A small aubergine, or half of a medium-sized one.
  • White wine (you just need a splash)
  • Fresh mint (a small-ish handful)
  • 75-100g pasta per person. Again, I couldn’t find casarecce locally, so I used open cavatappi, which were the closest I could get.

This served two adults, with enough leftover for one baby.

Cut the aubergine into small chunks or thin slices, and fry it in olive oil until it has softened and coloured slightly. Add a little of the chopped mint to the pan when the aubergine is nearly ready: don’t add it too early, as you want it to soften but not burn.

Meanwhile, cut the fish into small chunks, and fry it in a little olive oil with the crushed garlic. Add the white wine, let it bubble up, then add the tomato, the pistachios and most of the chopped mint. Let the sauce reduce for about 15 minutes, during which time you can be measuring out your pasta and putting it on to boil. I’m not going to tell you how to cook pasta, as I don’t want to insult your intelligence: read the packet if you need to and I’m sure you’ll be fine.

When the pasta is ready and drained, add it and the aubergine to the panful of tomato and fish sauce. Stir the ensure everything is well coated, and serve. You really shouldn’t add parmesan to a fish-based pasta sauce, but if you have a particularly strong devotion to all things cheesy, I promise to look the other way as you reach for the grater.

One final caveat: if, like me, you’re stuck with the cod option and you’re worrying about the fish breaking up too much in the sauce, it might be a better idea to fry it separately with half of the garlic, and add it to the reduced sauce just before serving, when you are adding the aubergine.

*She was attached to a religious college, and the devil business really perturbed the resident priests, who didn’t get the academic aspect to the scholarship at all.

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2 thoughts on “Pasta al Lido: approximately Sicilian

  1. Hi Lorna!
    I cooked this last night for friend and we enjoyed it. You might want to mention to add the usual pinch of salt but of course this really goes without saying. Also I assume the 500 g of tomatoes are to be chopped before going into the pan. I couldn’t get mint so I bought something called Swiss Mint of which the leaves are smaller and less soft but intense in taste. It looked like a smaller amount in the pan than on your picture. The taste wasn’t too distinct in the finished dish. Is it supposed to be? Also I just bought the kind of fish that happened to be had in deep freeze at the local grocery shop. The fish got quite flaky but I didn’t mind and regarded it as part of the sauce rather than as an “on the side”. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    • Ah, I never add salt, because of Eoin. Non-baby-feeders are of course welcome to salt away as they desire!

      I think the swordfish really is the crucial ingredient lacking in my case: Stephen pointed out that it’s a lot more robust and generally “meatier” than many other fish, so it might be a better idea to substitute tuna if you can’t get hold of it. I’ll take note of your results and add them to the great pasta recipe database: one day I’ll find the perfect recipe for this dish!

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