Italy, unlike France, Spain and the States, has never been a place that has really tempted me. Especially not in food terms. This might have something to do with the fact that I am a tiny bit wheat-intolerant and can no longer remember the last time I ate pasta without feeling really unwell, a fact which makes me very miserable.
So, in terms of foodie travel, the home of pasta and pizza, amongst other things, is a place that, until recently, I had only visited once, as an Interrailing student. And, though I loved Florence and was all ready to love Venice, getting robbed of every scrap of our money on the train into the latter made me desperate to leave and go to Germany (which is not something I say that often…).
Two months ago, I broke this appalling record via a trip to Perugia on a choir tour, followed by a 24-hour trip to Rome. And, oh my, I fell completely in love. Thanks to the very talented and brilliant Christine Smallwood, author, researcher and publisher of the Appetite for Italy books, I had a list of about five places to try in Perugia, four of which we managed to get into and none of which disappointed. It was the most consistently good and well-priced food and wine I’d had in years and the only negative thing I can say about it is that I am very glad I don’t live there because I would look like a beach ball and wouldn’t care.
I wasn’t in Rome long enough to eat anything but breakfast and ice cream, the latter serving, as it obviously should, as lunch and dinner for two days. I think I might have had a square of pizza too but I’d pretty much decided I was walking everywhere, and I mean everywhere, in my 24 hours and ice cream, well it’s so portable isn’t it? And on sale in every street in Rome. EVERY street. Or perhaps those are just the ones I visited…
By the time I got home to London I was trying to work out how I could learn Italian as well as publish a book, write a blog, sing in a choir, work at festivals…and, luckily, I recognised quite quickly that it was impossible. However, the food, cooking that is definitely not impossible. Because, like pasta, most of it is dead simple and as soon as I got back, the very same night, I opened my copy of Made in Sicily, which I had the tiniest hand in editing and started scanning for WTF material.
And this, this incredibly, straightforward one-pot-one-shove-into-the-oven recipe is where I started. It has the added advantage of upping my fish quotient, which is shamefully low on a blog devoted to easy, fast food but, to be honest, sod quotients: this is just a lovely, full of flavour dish that you will keep coming back to. I have made it twice, first by following the recipe and including sliced potatoes in the dish (which didn’t cook in time, so they must need to be much thinner than I can manage with a boring old domestic kitchen knife) and second, omitting the potatoes and steaming them separately. The latter works better, unless you a) like crunchy new potatoes b) own a demon mandolin. Neither of those apply to me. I prefer squishing steamed ones down into the lemony, capery, tomatoey, juices. Heaven.
Baked sea bream with capers, tomato, parsley and garlic
(adapted from Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
cherry tomatoes, about 12-20
capers, 1 tbsp, drained and rinsed
sea bream, 2, gutted, heads and tails removed, scaled (this last is very important; get the fishmonger to do it)
dry white wine, 65ml
juice of ½ lemon
flat-leaf parsley, a couple of handfuls
new potatoes (to serve)
How to (lovely and short this)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan-assisted/gas 4.
2. Halve the cherry tomatoes then mix them with the capers, a good splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper.
3. Put the tomato mixture in an ovenproof dish, put the fish on top then bake in the oven for 4 minutes.
4. If you are serving new potatoes with this, now would be the time to start cooking them.
5. Once the 4 minutes are up, remove the dish from the oven, pour in the wine and bake for another 15 minutes (though check it every so often and be aware it may take slightly less or more time; it will depend on the thickness of the fish and the efficiency of your oven).
6. Whilst the fish is cooking, peel and trim the garlic, wash and trim the parsley if necessary then flatten the garlic with the blade of a knife. Put the parsley on top of the garlic then chop them both together until you have a rough pesto-like consistency.
7. When the fish is done, remove it from the oven, put on plates with a good spoonful of the tomatoes, capers and juices, squeeze over the lemon juice, scatter over the parsley and garlic and serve.