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!
- 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.