We’re in the middle of Lent so I know many Italians and other Catholics celebrating the Easter season are enjoying lots of seafood on Fridays.
I have two favorite seafood types: swordfish, which I really enjoy but limit eating due to the mercury content, and cod. Cod, known as baccala’ in Italian, is a white fish that is tender, meaty and very versatile. The flavor by itself is very subtle, and, for lack of a better word, isn’t very fishy at all. It absorbs flavors wonderfully, is delicate and not at all heavy.
I prefer using the loin portion whenever possible. It’s thicker, meatier and doesn’t flake as easily as the tail end piece. Like most seafood, cod cooks very quickly, making it a great option for week-night dinners. One way I really enjoy it is eating it simply fried, because we know everything tastes better fried! Just dredge in some semolina flour, fry it up and enjoy it with a squirt of fresh lemon. It’s a great appetizer, or light first course next to a green salad.
But one more substantial way of eating it is by preparing it the Neapolitan way. Saucy, and little salty, and all too delicious, preparing it this way will serve as a full meal in itself. A few words of advice on cooking this dish: Be judicious with the added salt, both the capers and olives add lots of sodium so you may end up not needing extra salt. And be gentle when cooking this fish, keep the heat on medium and when stirring, use a light hand with the wooden spoon. Cod is delicate and falls apart easily.
Baccala’ alla Napolitana
Serves 4 – 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Hot pepper flakes, amount to taste
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 cup plain water
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
½ cup black olives, rinsed, pitted and halved
1 ½ lbs cod loins, cut into 4 – 5 inch servings
Salt to taste – see note above
You can smell it well before you can see it. That oh so scrumptious smell of fish frying. Fritto misto di mare, or mixed fried fish, is a timeless classic of Italian cuisine. It knows no season, nor holiday, it’s always appreciated and adored by all, and it’s perhaps my biggest guilty pleasure. My “just one more” can’t refuse food. Shrimps, mullets, squids, cod and anchovies, a medley of flavors that despite frying can be a delicate dish to enjoy. With Lent upon us, we thought we’d share how to make the perfect fritto misto di mare at home.
To start: Which fish should be used?
The classics include the use of cod, shrimp, anchovies, scallops, squid and baby octopus. But the limit is only placed by your imagination. Isn’t everything better fried? It goes without saying, but I will anyways, that for a perfect fish fry it is very important that the fish is fresh and well cleaned. And pay particular attention to squid (calamari). It’s best to buy them whole, and then cut the classic rings yourself at home. Though convenient, buying them already cut may mean that they are not at their freshest.
The goal of the perfect fry is a golden and crunchy coating. There are different options on how to achieve this. Some use flour, and I surely have at times, but if available, my advice is to bread the fish with durum wheat semolina flour. Coat the fish in the semolina immediately before frying, in doing this, the semolina will not have time to moisten, resulting in a crunchier topping. For anchovies, you can also prepare a batter with semolina, salt, pepper, an egg and a tablespoon of beer.
Oil and temperature
Back away from the olive oil for this one. For a full-bodied fry, it is advised to use the less fragrant sunflower oil. This will allow for the fish fry to remain crunchy, but the more delicate flavor of this oil will leave the flavor of the fish intact. Vegetable oil is also an option. To check that the oil temperature is right, try frying a piece of potato, as soon as it starts to fry, the oil will have reached the right temperature which is between 350 – 375 degrees. The fish must not remain in the oil for more than a few minutes.
How to serve the fry
As soon as it is removed from the oil, place the fish on paper towels. Add a pinch of salt, cut a lemon into 4 wedges and enjoy while still hot, perhaps with a glass of fresh white wine!
We’ve offered a basic recipe below, adjust amounts to your liking, as long as you follow the steps outlined above, you’ll be (almost) guaranteed the perfect fritto misto di mare.
Fritto Misto di Mare
Mixed Fish Fry
Serves 4 – 8
6 cups sunflower oil (approx.) or vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups durum wheat semolina flour (approx.) (or all-purpose flour)
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (alternatively, you can peel after frying)
12 fresh anchovies, cleaned
1 lb fresh squid, cleaned and sliced into rings, (tentacles are great, do not discard!)
½ lb sea scallops
1 lb cod, diced into 2 – 3 inch pieces
It’s Lenten season and for all those observing the upcoming Easter holiday, it means that Fridays will be devoted to abstaining from eating meat and most likely enjoying seafood dinners. Growing up in Italy, seafood was often served on Fridays as a general rule throughout the year, but during Lent, however, it was a must to eat seafood. We would go to the local outdoor market and purchase local freshly caught seafood. Having been raised in Calabria, our cuisine was often influenced by our neighboring regions, such as Puglia and Sicily. Mussels in read wine, or Cozze alla Tarantina, is a traditional dish from the region of Puglia, specifically from the city of Taranto. Famous for sun, sand, and sea, the region of Puglia is abundant in seafood, thanks to its location surrounded by oceans. Recipes from Puglia, like this one, are spicy, rustic, and adored for their simplicity. This recipe was once considered part of the cucina povera, or “poor man’s cooking” concept. Not so today, as a result of increased costs of the ingredients used. This recipe is part soup, part sauce, and complete deliciousness.
This dish is great because it comes together quickly, in less than 30 minutes, it’s gluten free for those following a GF diet, and it’s also dairy free. The prep time is 10 minutes at most, and as with a lot of seafood dishes, it cooks super fast, in 15 – 20 minutes max. This recipe yields 4 servings, but you can easily adjust up or down. Turn this recipe into a two-course meal by cooking some pasta and dressing it with the sauce from the mussels.
Mussels in Wine and Red Sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
¾ cup dry white wine
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed clean and beard removed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
Red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Chicken parm, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken, ziti and broccoli, oh my! These are the dishes you will often find on my table. I am a native Italian and I love to cook. But I have been living in the US for almost 33 years now, so I must confess, my kitchen is not always “authentic Italian,” and these dishes speak to that. My family’s taste buds and recipes have changed since moving here so long ago, and we’ve adapted to what is most readily available at the main grocery store.
And there is something to be said for really good, homemade, Italian-American cuisine. It’s not always about being authentic; sometimes it’s about preparing a delicious dinner for your family, and forget if something would be approved by a food historian. And good old comfort food like chicken parm fits that bill.
It’s uncertain where this recipe comes from, most likely from Italian immigrants, who brought with them their recipe for eggplant parm, and one day decided to use chicken instead. Unlikely the US, produce in Italy is and always has been relatively inexpensive. It’s actually cheaper to eat healthy in Italy than the US! If you have been to the grocery store lately, you’ll find that the price of produce compares to that of chicken and seafood! And while you would not find this on the menu at an Italian restaurant in Italy, you would certainly find it in an Italian restaurant here in the US.
This restaurant-style dish is worth the effort, especially during the weekend when you have just a bit more time. It’s actually not a lot of work. The sauce cooks while you prepare the other ingredients, and in under an hour, you have a delicious meal. Use the sauce to dress some pasta, and you have a two-course meal with no added effort!
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
Salt to taste – about 1 teaspoon
1 28 oz can of crushed peeled tomatoes
1 cup water
4 – 6 chicken breast cutlets, thinly sliced to about 1/3 inch in thickness
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups Italian breadcrumbs
¾ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Vegetable oil for frying
½ lb sliced provolone cheese or ½ lb shredded mozzarella
Instructions for the sauce
Instructions for the cutlets
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