Pasta al pesce spada (Pasta with Swordfish)

Pasta al pesce spada (Pasta with Swordfish)

This is the kind of carefree pasta dish that, for me, typifies summer eating. The recipe is quick –you can make the condimento (sauce) in the time it takes for you to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta–and precise measurements hardly matter at all. (The ones indicated here are really just suggestions.) You throw in a handful of this and a handful of that, ‘eyeballing’ the measurements to suit your tastes and mood and pantry. And you can make the dish with just about any kind of pasta that strikes your fancy. The one quality it lacks is economy, the price of swordfish being what it is, but a little goes a long way. In fact, it may be the least expensive way to enjoy swordfish, as you really only need enough to lends its special flavor to the pasta; add more if you want a more substantial dish.

As any Italian will tell you, the combination of pasta and swordfish immediately give this dish away as Sicilian. But you can use this technique with just about any firm-fleshed fish you feel like. After all, it’s summer, and the livin’s easy…


Serves 4-6 people

  • 500g (1 lb) pasta of your choice (see Notes)
  • 250g-500g (1/2-1 lb) swordfish, boned and skinned and cut into small cubes
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • 250g (1/2 lb) cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • A handful of black olives
  • A spoonful or two of capers
  • A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • A sprig of fresh oregano, stem removed (or a pinch of dried)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil


  • A pinch of hot red pepper flakes


Put a large pot of water on to boil, salt well, and throw in your pasta. Cook al dente.

While the water is coming to a boil, start your condimento:  Sauté the garlic in abundant olive oil until it is lightly browned, then raise the heat to high and add the swordfish. Mix the swordfish from time to time so it browns evenly, seasoning generously.

When the swordfish is browned to your liking, add the tomatoes, olives and capers, lowering the heat a bit so the ingredients simmer rather than sizzle. Cook for 5 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have softened but not entirely disintegrated. Turn off the heat and mix in the parsley and oregano, and the red pepper flakes if using. (Reserve a bit of the parsley if you like for garnish.)

When the pasta is done, transfer it to the sauté pan and mix everything well over gentle heat. Don’t drain the pasta too well, you’ll need a bit of pasta water to make a proper sauce. If the pasta is too dense, add some more pasta water to loosen things up.

Serve immediately, with some parsley sprinkled on top for garnish if you like.


You can use just about any pasta you like for this dish, long or short. I think it goes particularly well with stubby, homemade pasta like the typically Sicilian busiati. For last night’s’ dinner, I found some imported fresh fusilli (the Italian kind, which look like a longer version of cavatelli, not ‘corkscrews’). They were very good indeed. But the dish works equally well with penne, strozzapreti or any other pasta shape that strikes your fancy. It even goes well with egg pastas like fettuccine.
A nice variation, especially if you are using a good portion of swordfish, is to reserve half or more before adding the tomatoes for use as a topping. You can crush the remaining fish if you like so it ‘melts’ into the sauce. If you don’t care for olives and capers, you can leave them out. Some recipes add pinoli nuts, either toasted or not. You can replace the oregano with another herb of your choice; mint or basil would be particularly nice choices. (A very common version of this dish combines swordfish and fried eggplant, but that variation is different enough to merit its own post.
Many pasta sauces and other dishes in Italian cooking can be divided into dishes in rosso or in bianco, with or without tomato. This dish can be made entirely in rosso by adding enough canned, sieved or fresh tomatoes to make a proper sauce, or in bianco, by omitting any tomato at all. Adding a few fresh cherry or grape tomatoes you have a kind of middle ground between the two, which is very appealing and, to my mind, perfect for summer.

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24 Responses to “Pasta al pesce spada (Pasta with Swordfish)”

  1. 9 July 2012 at 11:49 #

    This is great! Swordfish is one of my favorites. It's actually my first choice when I go out to eat seafood. We have a great fishmonger near us that gets really good quality Swordfish. I usually reserve it for grilling or blackening… but my culinary world just got bigger.

  2. 27 June 2012 at 08:44 #

    Hi Frank – this is my kind of dinner. We get fresh local swordfish here too. It's now on my menu for this week.

  3. 26 June 2012 at 07:36 #

    Summer on a plate, as we bloggers would put it… ;=)

  4. 26 June 2012 at 07:35 #

    Thanks, Simona! I agree, it's a delicious fish. Even folks who don't much care for fish (and there are quite a few here in the US) usually go for swordfish. Anyway, the dish is worth a try! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. 26 June 2012 at 07:33 #


  6. 26 June 2012 at 07:33 #

    And thank you for stopping by! The dish is worth a try!

  7. 26 June 2012 at 07:32 #

    Thanks so much. Glad I was able to bring back such idyllic memories! Those holidays sound like heaven. :=)

  8. 26 June 2012 at 07:31 #

    Thanks, Bill! Glad you liked it!

  9. 26 June 2012 at 07:31 #

    Hmm.. that's a good question! The dish is so tied to its main ingredient! But I would bet that the same technique would work rather well with chicken breast. (In which case, I would remove the chicken from the pan after it's been browned and return it at the last minute, to avoid overcooking.) If decide to try it out, do let us know what you think!

  10. 26 June 2012 at 07:27 #

    I wasn't bad if I do say so myself… ;=) Worth a try!

  11. 26 June 2012 at 07:27 #

    Well, thank you, Ellen B!

  12. 26 June 2012 at 07:26 #

    Couldn't agree more, Ruth!

  13. 26 June 2012 at 07:26 #

    Grazie, Chiara, e buona settimana!

  14. 26 June 2012 at 06:32 #

    I love the versatility of this dish – as you say, perfect for the season.

  15. 25 June 2012 at 11:06 #

    Swordfish is my favorite fish, a preference that goes back many years. I also have never had it on pasta. This is like a lovely summer dish, Frank.

  16. 24 June 2012 at 22:33 #

    What a great recipe, Frank! We love swordfish, but haven't ever made it with pasta. Lovely hand-painted “piatto fondo,” too! Deruta, by chance?

  17. 20 June 2012 at 09:00 #

    Frank what a fantastic recipe. My husband and I are swordfish fans. I know he would really love your recipe. Thanks for sharing it and all the tips.

  18. 19 June 2012 at 15:02 #

    Che nostalgia! This so remind me of my childhood holidays in Sicily. My uncle busy with BBQ with slabs of swordfish doused in olive oil and oregano. I can almost smell it. I can hear the cicadas in the background. Thank you for this lovely dish, as always you caputure the essence of Italian food as well as of the festive family atmosphere of it!

  19. 19 June 2012 at 09:55 #

    We made this last night – it takes *WAY* longer to boil the water than prep the condimento. ;-) And yes, delicious.

  20. 18 June 2012 at 13:08 #

    Hiya, this recipe looks really good, and I like the non-precise style of cooking. Being an avid fan of Italian cooking, I would very much like to try this dish but I do have fish allergy :( What kind of meat you would suggest to replace it? :)

  21. 17 June 2012 at 19:05 #

    That must taste great! I will have to look for some swordfish!

  22. 17 June 2012 at 16:05 #

    Delicious! I love your style of cooking!

  23. 17 June 2012 at 15:46 #

    This really is a summer dish. Fresh simple ingredients. I definetely would have it in rosso as those juicy cherry tomatoes definetely complement all the flavours!

  24. 17 June 2012 at 11:36 #

    un fantastico piatto unico da gustare con un calice di vino fresco! buona domenica!

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