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…
Ingredients (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
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.
NOTES: 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.