Baked fish with tomatoes and olives

There’s a great restaurant in Rome called La Torricella. It’s run by a Pugliese family and the menu is southern Italian stylin’. They have an antipasto buffet full of grilled summer vegetables and tiny little fishes, fresh as seafood and the gelato is house made, churned in time for the lunch service. Visit on Friday and you’ll eat with lots of pious locals getting their fish fill.

Earlier this year, when we spent five months in Italy, we visited Rome pretty frequently. Every time we trekked across the river to Testaccio to eat at La Torricella and every time we had the whole baked fish with roasted potatoes, tomatoes and olives. The waiter would bring the pre cooked fish out to show you, if you agreed to eat it (and you’d be silly not to) he would bring it to you sometime later, cooked with the vegetables all around it in a big tray. Then, it would come back to you, all cut and plated, ready to eat. 

I’ve had a few goes at making it at home and it’s always a hit. It’s one of those great recipes that tastes much better than something this easy ought to. All you need to do is roast the potatoes in olive oil until they’re well on their way, about twenty minutes. Then, you put in the tomatoes, olives, herbs and white wine and give it another ten minutes. The fish goes in last and only needs about 10-15 minutes on each side before it’s done. 

By the time you pull the whole thing out of the oven, the juice of the tomatoes and fish will have mixed nicely with the white wine, making the vegetables beautifully sticky and sweet. It might even be good enough for New Year’s Eve dinner.  Enjoy.

Whole baked fish with potatoes, tomatoes and olives

One last thing, don’t be scared to cook a whole baked fish. It’s really easy, much easier than roasting pork, lamb or beef. When it’s whole like this, rather than in fillets, stays moist and the flavour is multiplied. You also have the added bonus of being able to stuff it with lemons and herbs for some extra bang.
Serves 4
1kg whole snapper, or other good looking white fish, scaled, cleaned(your fishmonger should do this for you), seasoned inside and out with salt and pepper
4 medium potatoes, washed and chopped into 2 inch cubes
½ a cup of olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 tomatoes, sliced into eighths
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
½ a cup of white wine
A handful of black olives
1 tbs salted capers, rinsed

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
2. Put the potatoes in a roasting pan large enough to hold the fish and other vegetables. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven.
3. After 20 minutes take them out and turn them with a metal eggflip. If they are beginning to brown(see picture above), you’re ready to put the tomatoes in, if not put them back in for 10 minutes. When they are beginning to brown and are soft, add the tomatoes, capers, olives and onions. Break one of the rosemary sprigs up and stir that through too. Pour half of the wine over and put back in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
4. Take the vegetables out of the oven, if the tomatoes are beginning to wrinkle, the dish is ready to take the fish on.
5. Cut three lengthways slits in the fish on each side (see picture above). Put a rosemary sprig inside the fish and as many lemon slices as will fit. Place in the roasting dish and drizzle with olive oil. Put the rest of the wine in the pan and roast for 15 minutes.
6. Take the fish out and carefully turn it over. Put back in the oven for another 15 minutes.
7. The fish is done when the eyes are white and you can see that the flesh is white and cooked through the slits you made.
8. Cover with foil and let it rest for a few minute. If you’re eating it with a salad, now is a good time to make it. 
9. Remove the flesh from the bones and serve on warm plates with the vegetables and any pan juices. Serve with lemon wedges, green salad and a glass of cold white wine.

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