Pasta con pesce spada e melanzane

We're already in the last week of July, which makes me a little sad as it means we only really have one more month left to Summer, my very favorite season of the year. On the plus side, though, the end of July also means that its time for this month's round of Cucina Conversations, and you can hardly be mad at a group of delicious recipes gathered together by various talented bloggers, now can you? Our July topic is seafood, perfectly in theme for the Summer when we're all spending our weekends by the sea and no one is up for eating anything too heavy. Here's what my fellow bloggers have whipped up this month:

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet has shared her recipe for impepata di cozze (mussels cooked with lots of black pepper); 

Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made gnocchi verde mare, or gnocchi with seafood;

Carmen of The Heirloom Chronicles opted for calamari ripieni al sugo, or stuffed squid;

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi will be making a zuppa di calamari e patate, or squid and potato soup;

Last but not least, Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma will be preparing acciughe al verde, or anchovies with basil, garlic, and parlsey.

Now! Let's talk seafood. I'll be upfront here -- generally speaking, seafood isn't on the top of my "Favorite Foods" list, and thus not something I cook too often (in fact, this blog has only a handful of seafood recipes). This could be because we didn't eat a lot of seafood growing up -- my mom also preferred pasta to fish, I guess -- but I think my feelings towards seafood were solidified in my teen years, when I tried my first lobster, served to me at a 
(fixed menu) dinner with the family of my boyfriend at the time. I remember my lobster arriving to my place setting in all its clawed, spiky, ruby-red glory, flanked by corn on the cob and potatoes, plus melted butter for dipping. But appearances can be deceiving -- picturesque plate or not, what followed was a mighty struggle, Girl vs Lobster, where I spent the better part of the dinner trying to crack open the claws and shell of the lobster to get the meat (kind of insipid, in the end, not worth the effort) and ended up frustrated, sweaty, and a bit embarrassed as I watched my fellow diners eat their lobsters with gusto. "It's part of the fun!" insisted my then-boyfriend, kindly taking over for me at a certain point when the struggle got particularly ugly. I chalked my lobster failure up to a few things -- lack of upper body strength! a faulty lobster shell-cracker thingie! -- but there was no denying it. After Lobstergate 2008, I decided I definitely wasn't a huge fan of seafood, with its bones and scales and claws and shells, and I decided I'd much prefer a straightforward steak any day. 

But people change! As I've gotten a little older, my taste buds have made a few concessions, rethought a few things, tried and been pleasantly surprised by a few dishes. I may never warm up to lobster (I shouldn't have to battle for my dinner), oysters (too slimy) or squid (its a texture thing) but I have found I do like shrimp, salmon, tuna, mussels (especially if served with fries) and swordfish. In short, there are exceptions to every rule, which brings us to today's recipe for pasta con pesce spada e melanzane, or pasta with swordfish and eggplant.

I first tried this dish during my year abroad in Bologna, Italy, at a restaurant called Il Veliero. It was one of the first restaurants we discovered in the neighborhood we lived in, and their pasta with swordfish and eggplant was what I ordered nearly every time we went. This version comes quite close to the one at the Il Veliero, with lots of juicy summer tomatoes, creamy mild eggplant, and substantial, steak-like swordfish, all tied together with 
a sprinkling of bright fresh parsley. Its extremely easy to throw together -- there's a bit of chopping involved, but nothing harder than that -- and is supremely Summer-y, a nice change of pace from the usual spaghetti alle vongole that is so popular here in Italy June-August. 

A couple of notes: To salt or not to salt the eggplant? There's a bit of debate on this, as explained here. Generally, if you buy a young, non-seedy eggplant (i.e one that is firm and not mushy) you don't have to worry about salting, and in fact, I never bother with it. I used casarecce pasta because I think it has a cool shape, but feel free to use whatever sort of pasta you'd like -- Il Veliero always used paccheri. I left the tomatoes raw, as I like the texture contrast and tomatoes are so nice in the Summer you don't need to do much to them, but feel free to saute them along with the eggplant if you want them to be cooked. If you're not a fan of parsley, basil would be nice here, and if you want to switch things up a little, you could probably substitute tuna for the swordfish.

PASTA CON PESCE SPADA E MELANZANE

Ingredients:
3/4 of a pound (360 grams, to be exact) pasta
About 1 pound (460 grams, to be exact) swordfish
1 large eggplant (mine was about 1 pound or 500 grams)
2 cups (300 grams) cherry tomatoes
A generous 1/2 cup (120ml) white wine
3 cloves garlic
A bunch of parsley, chopped

Directions:
Put a pot of water on to boil for your pasta, then start with your swordfish. Cut the swordfish up in to cubes, removing the skin and any other tendons or tough pieces of fish you might encounter. Set aside.
Move on to your eggplant next. Cut the eggplant in to roughly the same size cubes as you did the swordfish. Heat a good amount of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan, and then some -- eggplant absorbs a lot of oil so it needs a bit more to get it cooking) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant and cook until golden and softened, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste as you go. Remove the eggplant from the skillet with a slotted spoon and leave on a paper towel lined plate (or cutting board) to drain any excess oil. In the meantime, add the pasta of your choice to the now boiling water, and cook according to package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, add the swordfish and two of the garlic cloves to the pan where the eggplant was. You might need to add a little extra olive oil at this point -- I had added enough for the eggplant so I didn't, but see how it goes for you. Cook the swordfish and garlic in the pan just until the swordfish starts to brown, then add the wine to the pan. Let the wine cook down, about 4 or 5 minutes.
When the wine is evaporated, add the eggplant, tomatoes, and parsley to the pan. Remove the garlic cloves and discard. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Added the drained pasta and toss everything together.
Serve the pasta immediately with a little extra parsley sprinkled over the top, if you'd like. Serves 4 generously.

























Naples + Sperlonga

The cooking, baking, and recipe testing I usually reserve at least some of the weekend for has been replaced with a little traveling this Summer. There are the weddings, first of all -- I've been invited to 8 (!!!) this year, most of them in the Summer, requiring a bit of travel -- plus the fact that my oven, already faulty on the best of days, has finally given out, more specifically in a cloud of eye-stinging black smoke that came out of the top of the stove (yikes). While I wait for my landlords to find a solution, I've put my baking and some of my cooking on hold, spending my past two weekends outside the Eternal City -- a weekend in Naples, this past one in Sperlonga, and this upcoming one in Venice (more on that next week) because its not Summer without a little vacation, right? 

Translation: I haven't had much time to cook for you lately, but here are some photos of my days off, take these instead!

NAPLES
My sister and I traveled to Naples, Italy, two weeks ago to meet up with Anna Larkin, a friend from college who you might remember from this post on NYC and also this one. Anna also chose Bologna, Italy, as her study abroad destination for one magical year back in 2009, which we hands-down all agree was the best year of our lives so far (you really can't beat study abroad). She's the most optimistic and infectiously sunny person I know, as well as the funniest -- its nearly impossible to be in a bad mood when Anna is around. Anna is also an awesome baker, even appearing on Food Network's Bakers vs Fakers where she won the show with her Chocolate Halzenut Pretzel Cupcake recipe (!!!) She's one of my very favorite people and I was so happy to see her in Naples. Here's us back in our college days:
Anna works in New York City, now, and while we usually meet up there, we were able to meet up in Naples this time (much easier from Rome) where Anna was spending the weekend on her way back from visiting her family in Ischia. Anna being a fellow foodie, she was thankfully on the same page regarding the purpose of the visit, which was, of course: Pizza (what else could be top priority in Naples?!) Anna came prepared, sending us ahead of time a list of possible pizzerie for Neapolitan pizza (feel free to use these as suggestions):
We ended up opting for Pizzeria di Matteo in Via dei Tribunali for dinner, arriving at 7:30 to avoid any lines (this was a good idea -- when we left around 9:30, there was a line of people waiting outside). All three of us went for the classic Margherita con la bufala, or tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella di bufala, on a thick crust, something worth mentioning as Neapolitan pizza distinguishes itself from Roman pizza primarily in its crust. Roman pizza has a super thin crust, while Neapolitan pizza has a thicker crust. Here it is below -- have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?! 
Like any good expats who have spent extended amounts of time in Italy, we polished off all of our individual (but very large) pizzas as we had learned to do, no problem. We also shared a fritti misti platter as an appetizer, with all sorts of fried goods (fried dough! fried potato croquettes!) which are also typical of Naples. Just a light Summer meal, really.
The next day, my sister and I explored the city a bit as Anna had left for New York on an early flight (see you at Christmas, Anna!) It wasn't my first time in Naples -- I had been there in 2012, shortly after moving to Rome -- and hadn't gotten a great impression of the city the first time around. I found it too chaotic, too dirty, and overall a bit intimidating. This time, however (after nearly 6 years of living in Rome, a city that is not exactly the picture of tidiness and order) I found the city to be charming, honest, with a "take-it-or-leave-it" or "what you see is what you get" sort of way. On my second trip to Naples I could see that the city is quite beautiful, the people are kind, and the food is spectacular -- I won't wait another 5 years before traveling there again. 
 
Before getting our afternoon train, we finished our short stay in Naples off with lunch, spaghetti con cozze e pecorino, or rather, spaghetti with mussels and Pecorino cheese. While seafood and cheese don't usually mix in Italian cooking, they do make some exceptions, sometimes, with cozze e pecorino being one of them. It was delicious and the perfect send-off to a weekend in Naples -- special thanks to our friend Mari for the excellent restaurant suggestion!


SPERLONGA
After a weekend near the sea in Naples and a long week in a new job at FAO that I am not having the easiest time adjusting to, I felt like a weekend by the beach was in order, so we booked a bed and breakfast in Sperlonga, a little town about an hour and a half outside Rome by train, right by the sea. Since food is always a priority -- the restaurant on the beach had not only spaghetti alle vongole and other seafood but also prosciutto e melone and caprese, two of my heat-less Summer standbys, plus a specialty of the region, tiella, which is a savory pie with either a scarola (escarole) or polpo (octopus) filling. Delish. 
To finish off the post, here are a few photos of the beach, mostly so you can see how blue the water is (after years of going to the beach in Rhode Island, with the not-so-calm, not-so-clean water of the Atlantic Ocean, this always impresses me). We had our own umbrella and lounge chairs, the water was the perfect temperature, and there was even a little breeze so it wasn't even so hot out. I read an entire book, got somewhat of a tan, and slept late. What more could you want in a weekend?!




That's all for now! I'll be back next week with hopefully an (oven-less) recipe and another post on a trip to Venice. Have a good week everyone!