Tag Archives: Fish

TUNNU `A STIMPIRATA – TONNO ALLA STEMPERATA (Tuna with onions, vinegar, capers and green olives)

Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer).  As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.


Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.


I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.

In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites  in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.

Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.

Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.

A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.


I have used Albacore tuna, trevally, mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.

tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4

Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.


Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.

Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.

Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.


You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.

TROTA CON OLIVE VERDI, LIMONE E ACCIUGHE – Pan fried trout with green olives, lemon slices and anchovies

Anchovies are often added to fish in Sicilian cuisine – they are either stuffed in the slashes made on the sides of the fish or gently melted with a little oil and added to the fish whilst it is cooking. Trout has flaky, delicate flesh and slashing it is not a good idea so I chose to do the latter.

I always use herbs for all my cooking and this time I selected sage that is often associated with veal and pork but I quite like it with trout. Sage is not a common herb in Sicilian cooking and you may prefer to use rosemary instead.

  • whole fish, one large trout (for 2-3 people)
  • lemons, 1-2 whole – ends trimmed, sliced into thick circles
  • extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 tablespoons
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • anchovies, 3-6 cut finely
  • green olives, a couple of tablespoons, well drained
  • sage or rosemary


  • Prepare the fish – clean, dry and stuff a few herbs in the cavity.
  • Add a little oil (about one tablespoon depending on your pan) to the frying pan and over medium heat. Add the lemon slices and pan fry them until lightly browned – turn once. In order to brown the lemon slices they should not be overcrowded so you may need to pan fry them in two batches.
  • Remove the lemon slices from the pan with the oil and any of the juices.


  • Add a little more oil to the fry pan, heat it and add the anchovies. Stir them around in the pan over medium-low heat until they dissolve.
  • Add the trout. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (remember that the anchovies are salty) and add the sage. Pan fry the fish on both sides and only turn once.
  • Add the olives half way the cooking.
  • Toss the slices of lemon and the juices back in the pan and heat through.


When I was in Paris a couple of months ago I saw this  hand painted Fridge in a store window. This fridge is part of  Sicily is my Love, a colourful collaboration by Smeg fridges and Dolce&Gabbana’s signature decorative style. Each of the 100 fridges illustrate Sicilian folklore in bold, vibrant colour and are hand-painted by Sicilian artists.  They were released during the Milan Design Fair, Salone del Mobile di Milano in 2016.



I do like New Zealand and every time I visit I praise and enjoy its extraordinary food culture. Not to mention the amazing scenery.

There is so much fresh and flavoursome produce in shops, farmers markets and roadside stalls – ‘gate to the plate’, so as to speak.

Kumera (Sweet Potato ) baked in local Waiheke honey and thyme.

Restaurants and eateries where the owners or chefs grow or source their produce locally are not scarce.

Fish too is local and staff in shops or in restaurants seem ready and eager to answer questions about their suppliers.

…that is if the produce is not already labelled or written about in the menu i.e. line caught tuna supplied by a trusted small fishery.

Menus highlight the production of New Zealand’s local and wide-ranging supply of produce and fine wines.

We have friends on Waiheke Island so Auckland and Waiheke are always a must on each visit.

On this occasion we  were able to view the amazing sculptures on Waiheke Island (Headland Sculpture on the Gulf). Above, artist=Paora Toi-Te Rangiuaia.

Below , artist=Robert Jahnke Kaokao

Who needs the Venice Biennale…they have their own!

Below , artist= Virginia King

On this trip we hired a campervan and travelled to the Bay of Islands. Ever since my first trip to NZ I have been impressed by the apparent and increasing awareness and appreciation of organics and of locally-produced produce.

Of course great and diverse produce is more apparent in places like Waiheke but as we travelled around we found satisfactory local produce in the 4Squre stores and in supermarkets….local sweetcorn or avocados were  5  for $5.00.

Below  New Zealand Spinach (also known as Warrigal Greens) growing on Waiheke in our friend’s garden.

We even bought local fresh produce from the local garage, opportunity shop or news agent in country locations.

On beaches around Opononi I found some samphire and some wild fennel near Rawene.

We bought some local fish, picked some blackberries and I used all those ingredients that night for a meal.

I picked some blackberries and we ate them with some fresh cream.

Pity the prickly pears weren’t ripe! We could have pretended to be in Sicily!

It is amazing how in limiting circumstances, how little one needs to make food flavourful and healthy.

I cooked the above fish (very simply…what else can you do in a campervan!

Fish sautéed in red wine

I pan fried in a light amount of extra virgin olive oil, fish turned once – it will only need about one minute on each side,  add salt, pepper, a few herbs. Remove fish and then add about 3 tablespoons of red wine and evaporate. Return the fish to the pan, add a few more herbs if necessary. If I had some butter I may have whisked a little into the sauce.

Below, simple lunch at the New Zealand Gallery… a bed of spinach leaves, cured meat, soya beans, raw beetroot, radishes, and a Japanese soy/sesame sauce. Light, fresh and simple.



PESCE GRATINATO (Baked fish topped with almonds and pistachios)

Almonds and pistachios as often used in Sicilian cooking as both are grown extensively in Sicily. The parsley and capers accentuate the attractive green colour of the pistachios.

The breadcrumbs are made with 1-2 day old bread – use good quality bread, for example sour dough or a pasta dura. Remove the crusts and make crumbs.

fish, 100g-150g for each piece
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the bread and nut paste:
80g pistachio (unsalted), chopped finely (but not too powdery)
80g almond meal or blanched almonds chopped finely
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup capers, chopped
½ cup of finely chopped parsley
½ cup of fresh breadcrumbs
2 cloves of garlic, mashed
a little salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the paste by mixing all of the ingredients together – use a mixer if you wish.
Heat the oven to 225C
Line a baking tray with baking paper and coat it with a little extra virgin olive oil.
Sprinkle a little salt on each piece of fish and drizzle a little olive oil on each.
Place some paste on each piece of fish and spread it over each piece of fish – use your fingers.
Cook for 10-15 mins (according to taste). This will depend on the size of the fish, the thickness and how cooked you like your fish to be. If you cook your fish for longer you may need to place some baking paper on top of the fish to stop the topping from burning.




If you prefer to present them warm, the patties can also be warmed either in an oven or a microwave before your place them into small hot rolls, warmed in an oven beforehand. For the burgers presented at room temperature, you can add soft green salad leaves in the roll (young arugula/rocket leaves or cress or very finely sliced lettuce)

This  is a recipe from Small Fishy Bites, my new book. Release date Oct 1, 2013

During my most recent trip to Italy I was amazed to see how many hip bars specialise inmaking burgers. They are considered a fashionable snack to accompany wine or beer.
Burgers, like pizza are now universal and have been miniaturised and these mini burgers are
known as sliders.
Sliders are perfect food for when you’re entertaining—they are the perfect size to hold and so easy to slide into your mouth.

6 small rolls suitable for miniburgers
170 oz/500 g fish, salmon or a mixture, see above
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 small egg
1/2 cup fresh bread breadcrumbs
extra virgin olive oil for frying

Herb paste

1 cup finely chopped fresh herbszest of 1 lemon or the skin of
1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3–4 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground black
pepper, to taste

Cut the fish into chunks and mince using a meat grinder or food processor—I do not like the mixture to be too fine. Combine all of the ingredients except the oil—the mixture should be quite firm and hold its shape. You may need a few more breadcrumbs, depending on the type of fish you use.

Shape into 6 balls and flatten them slightly. Fry them in hot oil and drain them on some kitchen paper. Stuff the patties into rolls and place a dollop of herb paste into them before serving. Hold the rolls together with a toothpick or a small metal skewer.

Herb paste

A simple paste can be made with any of the following fresh herbs: coriander, basil, mint, tarragon or chervil. My preferred method is to chop the herbs finely and mix all of the ingredients by hand. Rather than using olive oil, you can use egg mayonnaise.

PESCE ALLA PIZZAIOLA (Fish Braise Cooked Pizzaiola Style)

There are many Italian recipes cooked alla pizzaiola and If you cook something “alla pizzaiola’ it will have tomatoes, garlic, and parsley; in this case there are also anchovies and chillies.


This mixed fish braise is very easy to cook and although the recipe may appear to have too much garlic and chillies, the flavours meld into a mild, sweet flavoured sauce with subtle tastes. Serve the dish with bread to mop up the flavourful liquid.

The anchovies add another layer of taste and do not overwhelm the flavours of this dish; if you do not like them, leave them out or, for a milder taste, use white anchovies (called boquerones, from Spain).

Vary the amounts of shellfish and fish to suit your tastes, for example the last time I made this dish I used only fish fillets and it was great.

300g fillets of firm white-fleshed fish
200g squid, cut into rings
200g mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
100g cockles
100g prawns
1 whole bulb of garlic, very finely chopped (to taste)
3-5 red chillies (remove the seeds), very finely chopped
salt to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
300g red tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces (or use tinned)
anchovies to taste, (I used 4)
¾ cup white wine
½ cup chopped parsley; also use some to sprinkle onto the finished dish

Cut fish fillets into serving size pieces. Pat the fish dry, rub with a little salt and pan-fry them in a in a large frying pan with a little of the oil. Remove them and set aside.
Pan fry the squid rings in the same pan and set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil and over medium heat sauté the garlic and chilli until the garlic begins to soften – with cooking, these ingredients will disappear in the sauce. Leave some of the seeds in the chillies if you like hot food.
Stir in chopped anchovies until they dissolve.
Add the wine and evaporate for 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, parsley, a little salt and cook the sauce until it is reduced. (Remember that the anchovies will be salty and that the mussels and cockles will also release their salty liquid).
Place the mussels, cockles and prawns into the sauce, cover and cook until the mussels and cockles have opened. The prawns will cook at the same time as the mussels.
Add the fish and squid to the pan and gently press them into the sauce ensuring that the sauce covers them and heat through.


ORTIGIA FOOD MARKET, SYRACUSE (Sicilian Seafood Cooking)

A Visit to the colourful, Ortigia food market in Syracuse
My Australian friend Sandi was going to Sicily. Her first big stop was Syracuse and she asked if there was anything she could do for me while she was there.



I gave her some photos of some of the stall holders in the Ortigia market in Syracuse and said that if she found these people she was to tell them that they would be in Sicilian Seafood Cooking (New Holland, release date Nov 2011). 

Sandi has just returned from Sicily and this is what she writes:
When Marisa learned of my intention to visit Syracuse to join my sailing friends she asked me to deliver some photographs to some of the stall holders there. Marisa and her partner Bob had taken the photographs whilst they were visiting Syracuse. The photographs of the stall holders are among the many wonderful photographs of Sicily, it’s markets  with their bountiful array of fruit, vegetables and of plenty of fish which are featured in Marisa’s  book entitled “ Sicilian Seafood Cooking”. I was thrilled to be able to do so. I am always excited at the opportunity to revisit the richness of the market in Syracuse – one of my favourite haunts.

It was easy to recognise the stall holders from their photographs despite the fact that the market as usual was crowded with locals buying the wonderful fresh produce.One of my sailing companions spoke Italian and therefore was my translator. They were ecstatic to receive a copy of their photograph and a copy of the cover of Marisa’s book. They listened intently with sparkling eyes and smiles on their faces whist my friend explained who had taken the photographs and why I was delivering them. They immediately remembered Marisa when I showed them a copy of her photograph.  As soon as they heard the explanation they ignored the crowd of customers waiting to be served and rushed from one end of the market to the other waving their photograph and relating their news to other stall holders excitedly. They even told the story to those that hadn’t been listening closely to my friends’ explanation.

All this despite the fact that they were busy with many customers.  No one seemed to mind and all enjoyed the excitement. Two of the stall holders pinned their copy of the photograph proudly on the wall behind their stall. If you visit you will see the photographs and I’m sure they will be pleased to proudly explain where they came  from.




What I particularly like in Sicilian fish recipes is the use of whole fish. In Sicilian kitchens it is common to either fillet the fish before cooking it and use the bones to make the stock (for the accompanying sauce) or what is more common, the whole fish is cooked and filleted when ready to serve. Either way, the bones contribute to the flavour of the dish.

In Australia so much of the fish sold is filleted, whereas in fish markets in Italy (includes Sicily) I have only seen whole fish – fish steaks from large fish, yes. Even in a pescheria (fish shop) there are very few fillets.

In the past few months, in the fish market where I shop I have noticed larger than usual quantities of John Dory (called pesce San Pietro in Italian and pisci San Petru in Sicilian). A common Sicilian way to cook it is with marsala – fina or secca of course (both dry). I found a version of this recipe in my copy of Sicilia in Bocca, Harel Edizioni.

And why is it called Pesce San Pietro (Saint Peter’s fish)?

The fish has a pair of dark spots on the sides of its large head that look like bruises left by two strong fingers.

The speculations are many; here are three:

At some stage Saint Peter, the fisherman, caught one of these fishes in the Sea of Galilee, held it and threw it back. Peter obviously squeezed too hard on this occasion and in the following situations.

Other stories are associated to a coin. It is a species of fish reputed to carry its young in its mouth and when there are no young it picks up, round pebbles or similar shapes. The fish that Saint Peter caught must have picked up a coin, the very one that Peter had to render unto Caesar, as directed by Jesus according to the Gospel of Saint Matthew.

Yet another idealized Christian conception relates to Saint Peter throwing the fish back, renouncing being a fisherman and his possessions to follow Jesus and share the bigger riches of Heaven.

For 2 people


John Dory, 1 large fillet (750-800g) or 2 fillets, about 375-400g each
fish stock, ¾ cup (fumet – reduced broth – see below)
marsala (dry), 1 cup
extra virgin olive oil , ½ cup
salt and pepper, to taste
plain flour, a little


Make fumet with head, bones, 2 bay leaves, 3 peppercorns,1-2 spring onions, a pinch of salt. Cover with water and reduce to ¾ cup. Drain and discard the solids.
Dip each fillet lightly in flour and a little salt. Lightly fry on both sides in the hot oil.
Add the marsala and evaporate it – leave the fillets without turning to prevent breakage. The marsala will caramelize.
Add the fish stock and deglaze the juices. Add freshly ground pepper.
I served it with a salad made with fennel and blood oranges (new to the season), and a little mashed potato to soak up the marsala flavoured juices.




I love Flathead. My fishmonger prefers to sell it as fillets, but I prefer to cook it whole especially if I am braising it; it is an ugly looking fish, but the bones and head add taste to the braising liquid. Many eaters dislike picking out bones from whole fish, however if the spine is lifted out carefully and kept whole, this does not have to be a big problem.

For two people I used one Flathead (600g -700g) and this recipe can be adapted for fillets; use large sized fillets to prevent breakage.

Other white fleshed, medium flavoured and textured fish suitable for this recipe are: Snapper, Leatherjackets, Whiting and Garfish.

The fish is cooked very simply and al crudo (using all raw ingredients and all in the pan at the same time); it relies on the fish being fresh and the tomatoes being sun ripened and flavourful. Mint is rarely used in Italian cooking but it is often added to Sicilian cuisine.

These quantities are suitable for 1k of fish. If using whole snapper, which is a larger fish, increase the cooking time and add a little more liquid to the pan.


fish (see above)
tomatoes, 500g peeled, seeded, and chopped
garlic, 4 cloves chopped finely
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground pepper
capers, ½ cup, I prefer to use the salted variety, soaked and washed
fresh mint, 2 tablespoons, cut finely and more sprigs for decoration


Arrange the fish and the tomatoes in a low saucepan so that the fish can be fitted in one layer.
Add seasoning, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, the finely cut mint and capers.
Cover the fish and cook on medium heat for 7-13 mins if you are cooking whole fish and about 5-7 minutes if they are fillets – this time will vary depending on the size of the fish and how much you like your fish cooked. Take off the lid and cook on brisk heat until the tomatoes have thickened. Avoid stirring or turning the fish to prevent breaking.
Decorate with fresh mint sprigs.


BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region)

 Ortigia, Syracuse

According to my Sicilian relatives, only Sicilians know how to cook bacca. Having lived in Trieste (north Italy), I was very familiar with this fish that is cooked in a variety of ways in this region. I particularly like baccalà mantecato, (boiled cod fish and then whipped or beaten with oil and garlic – one of the most representative recipes in Venetian cuisine). I tried to introduce my Sicilian relatives to this once, but they were not interested. Sicilians are particularly conservative about food that isn’t theirs.

Baccalà mantecato is not easily found in restaurants (most restaurants in Australia cook Southern Italian food) but I have eaten it at Guy Grossi’s, The Merchant –an osteria in Melbourne with typical food from the north-east of Italy.  The menu is presented. Most of the food is presented as cichetti— bite-sized morsels.

I do like the food and it brings back many childhood memories, including the Veneto dialect used for the names of the offerings on the menu (very similar to that spoken in Trieste) .

Baccalà mantecato, has the thickness of a creamy, mashed potato. The fish is served cold and when I ate it in my youth we always spread it on crostini – thin slices of white bread, lightly fried till crisp in extra virgin olive oil. We never ate it as a main course and usually we did the spreading and passed it around to guests while they drank an aperitivo. Needless to say, a glass of prosecco or soave is a good accompaniment.


There are various recipes for how to make this and not all add milk. I was taught that the milk sweetened the taste and helped to preserve the white colour –  I have so much accepted wisdom that I need to re-evaluate.

Thick pieces of salt cod (cut from the centre) are best. Leave the skin, but cut away fins and obvious bones. Cut into serving size pieces (7- 10cm). Rinse well in running water before soaking for 36-48 hours (over soaking will not spoil the fish, especially if the pieces of baccalà are thick). Keep it covered in a bowl in the fridge. Change the water at least 4-5 times.

bacca, 800g, pre soaked
garlic, 1-2 cloves chopped very finely (I use a garlic press)
extra virgin olive oil, at least 1 cup
salt, pepper
bay leaf, 1
parsley,  finely chopped 1-2 tablespoons
milk, 2 litres
water, 1 litre
Cover the pre soaked baccalà with cold water and milk, and bring it slowly to the boil. Add salt and a bay leaf.
Simmer gently for 30- 40 mins. Allow it to rest and cool in the liquid.
Remove the fish from the poaching liquid, pick out all the bones and remove the skin. Use a fork to break the flesh into small pieces.
Place fish in a bowl and add the garlic and about ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Begin to beat the fish with a wooden spoon and keep on adding oil as you would if you were making mayonnaise by hand. The mixture will look like a thick, white, fluffy cream. Keep on adding oil until the mixture will not absorb any more – it may absorb 1-1½ cups of oil.

The photograph of baccalà montecato was one of the entrées presented a couple of years ago as part of The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival; the event was called Around Italy in 7 Days – Travel north to south with a different gastronomic journey each night. Massimiliano Ferraiuolo was the chef (originally from Naples) who was visiting from Italy for a week’s residence at Society Restaurant and cooking each evening. (This was the evening to celebrate food from the north of Italy). It was presented on a bed of mashed fresh peas with black toasted bread (black squid ink was used in the bread mixture), sprinkled with paprika, toasted almonds and a red autumn leaf .