Friday, March 11, 2011

Swordfish Involtini alla Siciliana with whole-wheat fettucini and wilted spinach

Olives. Capers. Pine nuts. Currants. Chili flakes. Mario Batali whipped this up a week or two ago on "Molto Mario", my favorite bedtime cooking show of late. Well, it was almost 10 years ago that he actually whipped it up, but it only entered my consciousness a week or two ago. I found myself sitting more and more upright watching as he grabbed so many of my favorite things, one after another and put them all together!! Apparently I should have been born Sicilian. I had to have it. 

These are salt-packed capers. They're purported to have more of an actual caper flavor, as the ones in brine are essentially pickled. I actually had a hell of a time finding them - they were not at Central Market (the fellow helping me claimed they were out, but they haven't been there any time I've looked over the past several weeks) nor Whole Foods. But they were at the extremely awesome Jimmy's Food Store, conveniently located a few blocks from my yoga studio. There were several brands to choose from, even! And they have salt-packed anchovies too! Now I just need to get the balls to buy some!! Anyway, the capers were great, very caper-y. I do recommend trying to find them.

Buy local!

 And it turned out great. Quick and simple, as Mario always emphasizes Italian cuisine is meant to be, not impossibly restaurant perfect but something your mother would make that happens to be delicious. I'd say you could use any firm white fish you happen to have (although swordfish lends an inimitable meatiness, if authenticity is what you're after). I'm going to try it with my ol' tilapia standby next time, see if it can hold up to being rolled and stuffed. In Italian, involtini just means means "rolls". 

Mario also mentioned that this is a great dinner party dish, and I totally see it - you prep the sauce, roll your fish and stash in the fridge, clean your bathroom, make yourself pretty, then pop it into the oven 15 minutes before you're ready to eat and impress the pants off everyone. It just does not get easier than that! Also the sauce gives you some leeway when it comes to overcooking the fish (although I actually had the opposite problem, mine was a little too rare in the very middle. But my fish was thicker than the recipe called for, I should have increased the baking time. Since it was good quality fish, I'm not too worried about dying.) [Update from the following day: not dead!]

2 tbsp salt-packed capers, soaked in water for a few minutes to remove the excess salt
1 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 cup of Gaeta olives (obviously you could use any), pitted
really big pinch of red chili flakes
2 tbsp currants
~1 cup basic tomato sauce (or any very simple marinara you have around, or plain ol' crushed or pureed tomatoes would be fine)
1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup bread crumbs
zest of 1 orange
handful of Italian flat-leaf parsley (don't buy the curly garnish stuff), finely chopped
2 thin swordfish steaks (I bought a thick one and sliced it half in down the middle)

4 oz whole wheat fettuccini (or pasta shape of your choice, but I think long noodles work better)

huge pile of gorgeous local spinach (I don't measure - I just kept adding more to the pan as it cooked down until there was enough wilted down for both of us)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get your pasta water going.

In a nice heavy oven-proof skillet, heat a tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil and add the capers, pine nuts, olives, chili flakes, and currants. Allow to get acquainted for a moment, then add your tomato sauce and white wine. Simmer while you get everything else together.

In a small bowl, combine your orange zest, parsley, and the bread crumbs with a pinch of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and enough olive oil to moisten (a tablespoon or so). Lay out your beautiful swordfish steaks and season both sides, then spread the filling over one whole side and roll up like a jelly roll. Secure with toothpicks. Dunk into the sauce and pop the pan into the oven for 10-12 minutes (longer if using thicker pieces of fish - mine would have been just right at 15 minutes). Drop your pasta (with a good dose of salt for the water) as you put the fish in the oven.

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet and wilt your spinach. Season lightly. 

Lay your lovely involtini atop a mound of fettuccini smothered in heavenly sauce, spinach on the side. 

Serves 2, takes half an hour. Super easy to scale up.


  1. YUMMMM! This looks amazing! I'm going to get some swordfish or thresher shark next time the fish boat comes into the Ventura Harbor!

  2. That would be the local-est of all! Yum. I bet shark would work great.