“Cuando los ingredientes son óptimas, la cocina puede ser simple.”
“When the ingredients are optimum, the cooking can be simple”.
No truer words have been written, especially when it comes to fresh –beautifully fresh – fish still redolent of brine, eyes bright, firm fleshed and loaded with culinary possibilities. Last evening four Americans showed up at the dock, a stringer of corvina (sea bass) in hand, and a request for dinner. The menu was already set for the Cala Mia dining room, and with only 30 minutes before the hotel’s guests would be arriving, an uncomplicated dish was required.
I remembered reading David Shalleck’s Mediterranean Summer, a biographical journal of his first year’s as Chef on a luxury sailing yacht in the Med, and how he was challenged to create new dishes every day using only the freshest of ingredients for his discerning and demanding owners. Cheffing at an isolated island resort is similar to cooking on a yacht…you just can’t make a quick run to the market when the whim hits you. So you get creative and simplify, simplify, simplify…and use what your location offers up…in this case fresh fish.
One of Shalleck’s ‘go to’ recipes was Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Fish in Crazy Water), a traditional Neapolitan dish that exemplifies simplicity. With Cala Mia’s ‘go to’ guy, Beto, cleaning the sea bass, I began to assemble the dish. Thirty minutes later, as our four fishermen finished their first course of organic gazpacho with Feta and virgin olive oil, their pesce was served. After the ‘oohs and aahhs’, silence reigned as they quite obviously enjoyed their dish. (Although I would like to take full credit for its success, the kudos go to the Neapolitans who for centuries have mastered the art of simple, yet elegant dishes; and of course, the tasty corvina.)
Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Cala Mia Style)
- Fresh fish…the best is flaky fish like halibut, snapper, bass or grouper.
- Firm, ripe tomatoes
- Italian Parsley
- Kalamata Olives (optional)
- Virgin Olive Oil
- Sea salt and white pepper
[Although this recipe is designed for cooking whole fish, I have adjusted it to individual-serving stoneware oven-to-table dishes.]
- Brush the ramekins with olive oil.
- Cut fish into 1″ chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Layer the ramekins with thinly sliced leeks, zucchini and a touch of minced garlic.
- Place the fish chunks on top of the vegetables.
- Place thinly sliced tomatoes over the fish.
- Sprinkle with minced parsley, a bit of diced kalamata olives and capers (rinse both well to remove excess brine).
- Drizzle with olive oil and cover for the oven.
Note: The dish will appear somewhat dry, however, after 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the fish will be simmering in a lovely bath of ‘crazy water’. Do not overcook!