Thursday 24 June 2010

Recipe: Sicilian Swordfish Pie

Slightly adapted from a recipe of Alan Davidson - for who's writing I have a lot of time - this rather surprising dish is excellent. Surprising, because of the unusual structure, where effectively two pies are baked one on top of the other, not unlike a pair of steamer baskets. In fact, the middle layer of pastry simply disappears in the finished pie...and, on reflection, the structure isn't a million miles away from a version of good old lasagne.
The flavours included in the stuffing suggest this is a very, very old dish - shades of Apicius, if not even earlier. Definitely, this would be credible as part of an ancient roman buffet, or else being carried in hefty slices as food to eat whilst working the fields or organising the odd legion or gladiatorial display.
I've simplified the pastry which Davidson uses, and I've taken out the step where he egg-and-flours the slices of courgette before frying them - the latter step is important in reducing the water content in the courgette, but the former merely wastes time, IMHO, as the crisp coating that results from frying in egg and flour completely disappears once the courgette has been incorporated with the other stuffing ingredients.
This pie is delicious served either hot - as we had it several weeks ago when Pietro came down from Montemarcello for dinner, one evening - or cold, for lunch on the day afterwards.

For eight.

Ingredients: Shortcrust pastry, made with 250g butter, 280g '00' flour, a pinch of salt, and approximately 50 ml of water; 500g swordfish; 2 medium onions, finely diced; 2 tbs tomato paste; 2 celery stalks, finely diced; 100g greenolives, chopped; 2 tbs capers; 5 medium courgettes; olive oil; 1 egg yolk.

1. Make the shortcrust pastry:
  • Freeze the butter in the freezer until it is rock hard. This is imperative.
  • Grate the butter straight from the freezer using the grater disc on the food processor; add the remaining dry ingredients to the processor bowl and process using the blade until it has resolved itself into large flakes.
  • Add water in very small increments through the top opening, whilst the processor is running. Be very careful not to add too much.
  • As soon as enough water has been added, the mixture will form itself into one large solid lump and will adhere to the blade as it goes round. Stop the processor at this point.
  • Remove the pastry from the bowl and perform the fraisage - using just the heel of your palm, push the mixture six inches or so across the work surface in half a dozen or so bite-sized pieces, then gather them back together into a ball and wrap in cling film. Only do the fraisage once - the success of good pastry lies in limiting contact with your hands to a bare minimum, as otherwise the heat from your hands will cause the butter to melt within the pastry, and it will lose its shape as it cooks.
  • Preferably leave the pastry to rest in the fridge for several hours before rolling it out for use - again, this allows it to relax, and reduces the risk of it sliding out of shape or shrinking as it cooks.
2. Gently cook the chopped onion in oil until it begins slightly to colour, then add to it the tomato paste (diluted in a quarter cup of water), celery, olives and capers. Cut the swordfish into small cubes, add this to the pan, and cook, stirring over medium heat until it is well amalgamated and noticeably thickened - about twenty minutes. Check and adjust seasoning.

3. Slice the courgettes into thin strips, then these into approx 2" lengths; sprinkle with a little salt, and then fry them briefly in hot oil, until slightly coloured, and then drain them on kitchen paper.

4. Grease an 8" spring-form pan. Divide the pastry into three pieces. Roll out one of the pieces, and use it to line the base of the pan, with pastry coming halfway up the sides. Into this, put half of the swordfish mixture, topped with a layer of half of the pieces of fried courgette. Roll out the second piece of pastry, and repeat the process exactly (so you have your two pies with stuffing sitting on top of each other), and finally roll out the last piece of pastry and use it to make a lid, pressing it firmly into place all round the edge.

5. Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg yolk and bake for fifty minutes at 150 degrees C.

Serve either hot, at room temperature, or else cold. Delicious, whichever.

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