26 February 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Baked Fish Pugliese Style

CHIAVARI, Italy – The small fishing town of Giovinazzo is about 10 miles from Bari, in the southern region of Puglia. It’s a pretty place, the fishing is good and in the summer it is very popular with tourists – Italian and foreign.   
 Giovinazzo, Italy
It’s an old town, but exactly how old is still a mystery. It is generally believed there were people living in Giovinazzo even before the Romans came along. If the antique graves from the fourth century BC that were found just a few miles away in Molfetta testify to the existence of a fishing village,  chances are there were fishermen living in Giovinazzo too.
Giovinazzo had a different name back then, but not much else has changed. People still make their living from the sea, but these days it is less about fishing and more about tourism. I know the Giovinazzo tourist board would like me more if I would talk about their history and their churches, their art and architecture, but to me towns like Giovinazzo and its slightly larger neighbors Santo Spirito and Molfetta are less about their touristic sights and more about the spirit of the place and the people who live there. They have a way of making you feel right at home.

 Giovinazzo is Charming
All I can say is I have never met a Pugliese I didn’t like. I even like John Turturro, whose father was born in Giovinazzo, and I’ve never even met him or his father, but John seems to be very charming.  The Pugliese seem to have cornered the market on charm. Maybe they have a special charm gene, I’m not sure. But I do know that in addition to being creative and innovative, if you lure them into a kitchen they’ll cook up some of the best food in Italy, especially fish.
With that in mind, I couldn’t think of a better recipe for you today than a Pugliese standard, baked fillets with potatoes, garlic and olive oil. I can’t resist mentioning it’s also a Ligurian dish, but never mind that, we are talking about Puglia today.

Fish Vendor, Puglia, Italy
In Puglia their fish of choice is grouper and they put the whole fish on top of the potatoes. I confess I’m not a fan of cooking a whole fish, I’m more of a fillet kinda gal. There is something about those fish eyes looking back at me when I open the oven door to baste them that puts a damper on my appetite. It’s all Walt Disney’s fault. He never should have made that movie Finding Nemo.

So it’s fish fillets for me – and yes even frozen fish fillets are okay if they are defrosted. Cod is my favorite, but any firm fillets like haddock, bluefish or even fresh anchovies will do.
Baked Fish and Potatoes Pugliese Style
This recipe is from Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I chose it because it is easy, it’s delicious and it is practically identical to both my Pugliese recipe and my Ligurian recipe.


6 Servings

1 ½ pound boiling potatoes
A bake and serve dish, approximately 16 x 10 inches
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound firm fish fillets
1. Preheat oven to 450⁰ F
2. Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin. Wash them in cold water and pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
3. Put all of the potatoes into the baking dish, pour in the olive oil, the chopped garlic, half of the parsley, several good pinches of salt and black pepper. Toss the potatoes 2 or 3 times to coat them well and spread them evenly over the bottom of the baking dish.
4. When the oven reaches 450⁰ F, put the potatoes on the uppermost third of it, and roast them for 12-15 minutes, until they are about halfway cooked.
5. Take the potatoes out of the oven, but do not turn the oven off. Put the fish fillets (skin down if they have skin) over the potatoes. Mix the remaining olive oil, garlic and parsley in a small bowl and pour it over the fish, making sure it is distributed evenly. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and put the dish back in the oven.
6. After about 10-12 minutes, take the dish out of the oven, again do not turn the oven off, and baste the fish with the oil on the bottom of the dish. Loosen the potatoes that have become browned and move them away from the side of the dish. In their place put potatoes that are not as brown. Put the dish back in the oven and bake for another 6 – 10 minutes, depending on how thick the fish fillets are.
7. When cooked, take the dish out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes (5 or 6). Serve directly from the baking dish, and pour cooking juices over each serving.

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