Friday, June 14, 2013

Black Cod in Sicilian Olive Sauce (Merluzzo Nero alla Olive Ghiotta)

Black Cod in Sicilian Olive Sauce

I went to Sicily.  Give me a second, I just want to read that last sentence and breathe deeply.
Yeah, I went to Sicily.  Wow.  First, the food - as you've probably heard before- amazing. Second, the people were so friendly.  They were so open.  They were so patient while I mangled the Italian language.

There was inspiration everywhere I visited and I covered a lot of country.  My husband and I are thankfully alike in wanting to see as much as possible on vacation.
We never stop.  It's upsetting to many of the hotel, apartment and agriturismo owners that we meet in Europe. They always ask, "why do you stay only one night, why not stay more, relax?"  They often look hurt that we aren't soaking in their lovely city and homes for longer. I love them for that spirit.  It's just not how we're engineered.  We want to see it all, do it all and we only have a limited time, so it's go, go, GO.

The upside is we eat at a lot of different places and experience classic and modern takes on their traditional dishes. Then I return with ideas and passion for creating them myself.
One of the terms used a lot in Sicily was "ghiotta" [ghee-OH-tah.]

There was Pesce alla Ghiotta, and Tonno alla Ghiotta, and even Panna Cotta alla Ghiotta.  At first I thought it just meant a well-known Sicilian collection of tomatoes, olives and capers (sometimes with raisins thrown in, too.)  After returning to the States and asking my fav Italian teacher (Lorena Bignamini) and a scholarly buddy that teaches Italian at UCLA (Erika) about the word, "ghiotta", I'm ready to pass along these really fun facts:

** Ghiotto and Ghiotta are adjectives that can mean curiosity or interest in something scrumptious.

** It can also mean gluttonous person, but in Italian it means in a good way.

** Our literal translation could mean glutton, but in Italian it's only positive - meaning something like a person really liking something.  Lorena said you could be "ghiotta di Nutella, ghiotto di proschiutto, ghiotta di dulce and on and on.."

** If someone is a "ghiottone" it means they really appreciate food, like a gourmand, or a foodie (yay!) Although literally in our language it means a little wolverine.  Hahaha.

I've decided the best way to remember this is to think of our slang "Gaga" for something.  If you are "Ghiotta" for something you are "Gaga" for it.  Capisce?

Sicily, having a history of being owned by so many different countries along the way, is a mixture of Arab, Africa, Greek, French, Italian and many other influences.
A meal may have olives in one dish and cinnamon in the next.  Sweet pastries are combined with savory spices, sausages are soaked in onions one dish, and fruits the next.  The country is covered in rolling hills, but dotted with palm trees too.
A city may be buzzing with commerce and just outside of it looms the ruins of a Greek temple built before Christ.
But, this is definitely Italy and almost every hillside has olive trees and every table a bottle of wine.
One of the "ghiotta" dishes that inspired me was enjoyed in Palermo at Trattoria Biondo.
Just before I left for Sicily, the sweet folks at Lindsay Olives sent me a few cans and jars of their Natural and Sicilian collection of olives.

It was wonderful timing and I was excited to return and play with my food (what a Ghiottone, huh?)

I'm using Black Cod because it's so easy to cook with and a good sustainable choice.  I'm using two different kinds of Lindsay Olives for a very full flavored sauce.  I minced the black olives to use instead of capers for a really nice tang and balance to the fish.

Until you or I get to return to Sicily, I hope you'll visit through your kitchen with this recipe:

Black Cod in a Sicilian Olive Sauce- (Merluzzo Nero in Olive Ghiotta)

1 Fillet Black Cod (cut into large pieces)
1 small Onion (cut in thin slices)
3 Garlic Cloves (peeled and smashed)
Olive Oil
1/2 Cup White Wine
2 large Tomatoes (cut in chunks or 6 strawberry tomatoes halved)
2-3 Cups Tomato Passata (Tomato Puree or Stock)
1 cup Lindsay Black Natural Olives (drained and minced)
1 cup Lindsay Sicilian Olives (drained and hand torn)
1/2 cup Fresh Parsley (chopped)
1/4 cup Fresh Basil (chopped)
*Crushed Pistachios for garnish*

1)  In a large pot, add a nice layer of Olive Oil to the bottom and heat on Med.
2)  Add onions and garlic and cook gently until soft (about 8 mins.) ** optionally a few slices of slivered Fennel is delicious, too**
3)  Add the White wine and continue to cook down for about 10 mins.
4)  Place the Fish pieces in a single layer on top of the onions. Sprinkle in the minced Olives. Hand tear the Sicilian Olives and distribute those in the pot also.
5) Add the Tomatoes, Parsley, Basil and season with salt and pepper.

6)  Pour in the Tomato Passata. Increase heat just til it simmers, then cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for about 30 minutes.  Now and then, gently stir a bit and move fish around to cook evenly.
7) Remove Fish, ladle sauce into bowls, then top with Fish and garnish with Pistachios.

Chef Becky Selengut (author of GOOD FISH) gave this buying tip for Black Cod (also known as Sable Fish): Buy pieces that are center cut rather than tail because it's thicker and more resistant to over cooking.