You can see from the photo taken when I was last in Syracuse, that fish is plentiful in their markets.
I ate zuppa di pesce as often as I could in Syracuse – rich and fragrant and made with a great variety of fish; one zuppa had a greater variety of molluscs and also included octopus.
The zuppa di pesce (also known as ghiotta di pesce) from Syracuse is a signature dish. It is different from other zuppe di pesce because unlike cucina povera (food made from very meagre ingredients) it is made with quality, prime fish. It contains powerful flavours and is very aromatic.
A zuppa in Sicilian and Italian is a soup (zuppa, a word from Middle English and French soupe). A zuppa di pesce is usually served over slices of bread like a bouillabaisse. Sometimes it is also called a ghiotta di pesce because it is cooked in a tomato-based stock.
The line dividing a fish braise from a zuppa di pesce is blurry. Generally a zuppa contains more liquid and a braise will involve cooking in a small amount of liquid that is reduced and concentrated.
I do buy a mixture of whole fish and fillets. Do not associate cost with quality. Fish with bones (like meat with bones, add flavour).
I have chosen a very simple recipe. Naturally, Sicilians can’t help using some wild fennel (if it is in season) and a few ground fennel seeds would not be wasted.
A variety of seafood is preferable, but avoid oily fish (like sardines, tailor, mackerel, Australian salmon, trevally). Select at least:
• two different types of fleshy fish. I use: flathead, leatherjacket, albacore tuna, all types of whiting, snapper and blue-eye trevalla if line caught (better choice). Red emperor, snapper, blue-eye trevalla (think twice and if line caught are in the better choice category).
• one crustacean – green (uncooked) shellfish –prawns, lobster (mostly in the think twice), crabs and fresh water yabbies (better choice)
• one cephalopod – cuttlefish, octopus or squid (better choice).
• one mollusc – mussels and vongole (also known as pipis) are the most common in Australia (better choice).
(See my previous posts for categories of sustainable fish)
fish, 1.5 kg, mixed.
tomatoes, 500g peeled, seeded, and chopped
extra virgin olive oil, I/2 cup
celery heart, 2 – 3 pale green stalks and leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
bay leaves, 3 – 4, fresh
garlic, 4- 8 cloves, chopped finely
flat leaf parsley, 2 tablespoons, chopped finely
water, 1 litre
Prepare the fish: You will need chunks of fish for this recipe (for convenience you could use fillets). Clean, shellfish, molluscs and squid appropriately and cut into mouth-sized pieces.
Make la ghiotta in a shallow wide pan, large enough to accommodate the fish and the ingredients.
For the ghiotta:
Soften the celery in the extra virgin olive oil, for about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, tomatoes, seasonings and herbs, cover and allow this to simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Add as much water as you think necessary and bring the ghiotta gently to the boil – it is a thick soup.
Add the fish, cover and gently poach it for 5-10 minutes or until the fish is cooked to your liking. Do not stir or move the fish around during cooking or it is likely to result in the fish breaking up.
Serve with crisp, oven toasted bread.
- For additional flavour I use fish stock rather than water.
- Some of the restaurateurs I spoke to also add a thin peel of orange peel.
Apologies to my overseas readers.
I am astounded about the number of you that there are ( I use a stat counter), and I am sorry that I am writing about Australian species of fish. One day, maybe when (and if) my manuscript about Sicilian recipes (using sustainable fish) is ever published, I will embark on greater research about the fish (sustainable) you have in your oceans.