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.

Monday 21 June 2010

To London...

Theoretically for three and half days, but Easyjet 'went technical' on Tuesday afternoon and we ended up leaving Pisa a day later than planned.
Bitter experience meant that as soon as the airport staff were announcing a delay of around eight hours, we knew exactly what that would mean in practice (i.e that the crew would be 'out of time' before the plane was fixed, and that nobody would be flying off that day, for sure). So, before pandemonium broke out, and even as they were still making their announcement, we hoofed it, back through passport control, down the stairs and out - the wrong way - through security, across to the taxi rank...and probably were already half way home even before they'd begun to field the onslaught from irritated passengers. One phone call later, and we'd transferred to the following afternoon's flight...which was definitely preferable to the 6.20 departure in the morning that practically everybody else seemed to be subjected to. I noticed only one person on our flight the next day who had been on our first, aborted flight, so assume that the rest of them must have dutifully boarded the early morning alternative, bleary-eyed and in fighting mood; since this is the busiest week of the year in Pisa, with both the Luminara and the Palio taking place, then I should think hotel space was limited, and our hapless fellow passengers ended up being bussed out to somewhere like the Holiday Inn in Migliarino...a prospect not to be entertained lightly!

So, London timetable was a bit crammed - although, in fact it didn't terribly matter, since there was nothing much on offer anyway. Nothing whatsoever to see at the cinema - presumably because they were expecting everybody to be watching 'the football', and so didn't bother - and only The Summer Exhibition on at the RA, which I'm generally happy to miss. Charles Spencer's review of it in The Telegraph was wonderfully damning, and merely confirmed me in my suspicion that it would be just as dreary this year as it always is.

Fitting in around the chores, we managed a dinner party on one evening (Lamb, Apricot & Coriander koftas; Papardelle with Burro Rosso; Pork loin in Mustard, with Marsala Carrots; Cherry & Almond Tarts) and headed off to the Horace Walpole exhibition at the V&A for their late night opening on the following one. Agreeably empty - due to 'the football' - it was an 'eclectic' lot of stuff. HW clearly collected rather indiscriminately, and, moving from exhibit to exhibit I was increasingly reminded of Harold Acton and all that tat (with optimistic, but not very credible attributions) in La Pietra. I suppose Harold would have been gratified by the comparison, if nothing else.

And then, the horror of the airport for the return journey. Total and apocalyptic chaos. Thousands of people milling around in increasing levels of stress, as flight closures approached, queues got no shorter, and the airport staff appeared to have surrendered the will to live some time before. By the skin of our teeth, we got the flight - leaving only an hour later than advertised - and even managed to re-connect with our baggage on arrival...which, in the circumstances, seemed a minor miracle.

No more airports for another month!

Tonight's dinner:

Mackerel Rillettes on Tomato Salad, with Lemon Vinaigrette.

Lamb Shoulder, stuffed with Garlic & Anchovy; Baked Fennel.

Pear Tart, with Orange & Cinnamon.