Of course there'd been the tinned, jarred, and dried varieties. But nought a single fresh juicy tomato has passed through my lips - until today. I try to stick as best I can to a locavore philosophy year round. This challenge is made easier by Brno's main vegetable market, where most of the vendors label all their products according to country of origin. I don't know if this is mandated or not, but I tend to think not, as some of the stands are a bit more obscure in their labeling.
Most late-winter weeks I wander around the market scanning the cardboard signs for that elusive ČR label. Generally the veg comes from Italy, Spain or Greece. I try to ignore the tomatoes, as the mere sight of a seriously good looking bunch still on the vine makes me ache inside. I long. I lust. All winter long.
This last week was different. This last week I wanted to take part in the third Forever Nigella challenge by embracing Italian food. So I went to the market purposely looking for IT on the little cardboard signs. I decided to justify a brief detour from a commitment to local products in ode to Italy. For one meal only. So I have tomatoes now. And fresh basil.
During our last venture to the country shaped like a boot, hubs and I picked up some black squid ink pasta (Spaghetti Di Nero), which I've been saving for some worthwhile occasion. Well, I figure ushering in the end of winter eating makes for as good a reason as any.
The next step was to procure some fresh fish. A challenge in the Czech Republic (excluding Praha, of course) any time of year, at least for me, and at least as far as saltwater fish are concerned. Double the difficulty by adding in the translation from English to Czech. After spending a good chunk of my morning on the computer trying to find the Czech word for mullet, bream, or bass (the varieties suggested by Nigella) and the other part of the morning consulting with the hubs on the accuracy of such a translation, I finally sent him off to the fishmonger. He came home with a beautiful European Sea Bass (Mořský vlk.)
I marvelled, then I gulped. 'A WHOLE fish?' I asked. 'Well, yes, what did you expect?' Um, I don't know, skin-on fillets I suppose. I never actually handled a whole fish before. I always eyed up those impressive pics of whole-baked trout and so on, but never wandered into that territory myself.
Life goal #132 - make a meal starting with a whole fish. Check.
I watched this video a few times and asked the hubs for some advice, and it all went pretty smoothly (and de-scaling that sucker was pretty cool!)
It was worth it. The flavours came together perfectly. The fresh basil was key. I kept adding more and more on my heaping plate as I was eating, as I usually do with parmesan. The black pasta had a very subtle flavour (owing to the dried and not fresh noodles) that added a bit of earthiness. The tomatoes are added in just at the end so they are perfectly firm.
This will definitely tide me over until the Czech Republic heads into tomato season.
Edit: For a similar version using squid ink pasta, see the Pasta with Green-Lipped Mussels.
Continue to Recipe
Black Pasta with Red Mullet
Adapted from Nigella Express (p.294)
Serves 2 - 4
Eat with a frizzante Italian rose wine
I've adapted the recipe to suite what I am able to procure in the time and space in which I am cooking. In this case, I've added in an extra tomato, started with a whole fish rather than fillets, used garlic and oil (not garlic oil) and dried (not fresh) pasta due to availability of such products in my kitchen.
8 oz (250g) dried black squid ink spaghetti (check in an Italian shop or import aisle)
2 Tb olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced
12 oz (350g) whole bass, mullet, or bream
1 cup (250 ml) rose wine
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 tomatoes, cut in half and scrape out seeds and dice
2 Tb capers
1 Tb butter
lots of fresh basil
Get a big pot of water boiling for the pasta and review the video on how to fillet a fish. Sharpen your knife and follow the steps and you should be fine.
In a deep pan, heat the garlic in the oil on med-low heat for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add in the green onions and cook another minute. By now, the water should be boiling and add the pasta to the water. Cook 9 minutes, more or less. Place the fish, skin side down, in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, flip the fish over, add the wine, salt and pepper, and cook until flaky and done, no more than 5 minutes.
Scoop out the fish and cover to keep warm. Cook the wine mix down for a few minutes, then add the capers and butter, whisk well, and finally add the diced tomatoes. Simmer for a minute, then add the drained pasta and toss until coated with the sauce. Flake the fish off the skin and add to the dish. Top with torn pieces of fresh basil.
For more info on Squid Ink Pasta:
Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.