Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls)

Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls)

In secondi piatti, Sicilia by Frank25 Comments

When you think of Sicily, what do you think of? When it comes to food, I’m sure swordfish is near the top of most everyone’s list. There’s no fish is more closely associated with the island, fished there widely since ancient times in places like the Strait of Messina. The local cuisine abounds with swordfish dishes, simply grilled and dressed with the famous salmoriglio sauce or with pasta.

But even in Sicily, I’ve found out, swordfish is an expensive treat, its retail price more or less as high as it is here in the US, perhaps even a bit more. So it’s not surprising that the locals have found ways to make relatively small portions go a long way. Pasta is a typical way to stretch an expensive ingredient, but if you want a secondo or main course, these involtini di pesce spada or Swordfish Rolls, are a great option. Thin slices of swordfish are topped with a savory breadcrumb filling, rolled up and then either baked or grilled.

These swordfish rolls are a really quick and easy dish, too, that you can get on the table in just a few minutes. The only slightly tricky part (outside Italy) is finding swordfish in thin slices rather than the usual “steaks”. An accommodating fishmonger is the best strategy, but if you don’t know one there are some work arounds we discuss in the Notes.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) swordfish, trimmed of its skin and cut into very thin slices (see Notes)
  • Salt

For the filling:

  • 100g (1 cup) breadcrumbs
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • A small handful of raisins (about 25g) soaked in warm water
  • A small handful of pine nuts (about 25g)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

For topping:

  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • More breadcrumbs if needed

Directions

Lay out the swordfish slices on a cutting board or other flat surface, seasoning them generously on both sides.

In a bowl, mixed the breadcrumbs with the minced garlic, raisins, pine nuts, minced parsley salt and pepper. (NB: If the raisins are very large, you may want to give them a rough chop.) Mix in the olive oil, bit by bit, until the mixture is well moistened and takes on the texture of wet sand. Taste and adjust for seasoning. The mixture should be very savory.

Lay out the filling on top of the swordfish slices. then roll up the slices starting from the narrower end (see Notes).

Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls) baked

You can cook your involtini di pesce spada one of two ways:

Oven baking: Lay the resulting swordfish rolls in a baking dish large enough to just fit them snugly, as pictured above. Season the top of the rolls with salt and any remaining filling mixture. If you’ve used up all the filling, sprinkle with more breadcrumbs. Drizzle everything with olive oil.

Set the baking dish in a hot (200C/400F) oven with the convection function turned on if it has it. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the rolls are cooked through. The top should be nicely browned, but if not you can run the dish under the broiler for a minute or two.

Grilling: Place the rolls on skewers (if you want, inter splicing fresh bay leaves between them). Roll the skewers in the remaining filling (or additional breadcrumbs) and drizzle them on both sides with olive oil. Grill the skewers over hot coals for about 5 minutes per side.

In either case, let the dish cool for a few minutes before serving, with a wedge of lemon and possibly a simply dressed green salad.

Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls)

Notes on Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls)

As mentioned the only really tricky part of the dish, at least if you live outside Italy, is obtaining the swordfish slices. Most (or all?) swordfish in this country is sold in thick “steaks”. If your fishmonger is willing and able to slice the swordfish very thinly for you—no more than 3mm or 1/8 inch thick—that would be ideal. Once you get home, trim off the skin if need be, then pound the slices with a meat pounder. (If you don’t have one, the back the small skillet will do the job.) Pound the slices to thin them out even more, to about the thinness you’d expect from smoked salmon. But be gentle to avoid mashing the flesh.

Roll up the resulting slices to test their size. Chances are, they will be too big. The rolls should be about 8cm/3 inches long but will likely be something like twice that long. If so, cut them in half, then unroll them onto the cutting board and proceed to fill per the recipe.

If all you can buy are the steaks, you can always try freezing them semi-solid then slicing them yourself with a carving knife. It’s fussy work (and be careful with that knife!) but it works in a pinch.

Given the shape of swordfish fillets, your slices will likely have an almost triangular shape, with one end noticeably shorter than the other. You want to start rolling from that narrower end, so it winds up at the center of your roll. That will produce a much neater roll, one that won’t open up easily.

Variations

You’ll find quite a few variations in the filling ingredients for your involtini di pesce spada. Recipes calling for grated cheese, either caciocavallo, pecorino or Parmesan are common, a clear exception to the general rule in Italian cookery that cheese and fish don’t mix. Not all recipes call for the raisin and pine nuts combination, but rather capers and olives, a much more conventional pairing. A pinch of oregano or chopped basil or even mint can their way into the filling instead of the parsley. As does a bit of grated lemon or orange peel, or a bit of chopped almonds or pistachios.

Some recipes will have you add an egg to the filling, which of course makes it quite solid. And if you want an elegant presentation, you can trim the sides of each roll so they’re perfectly even, and add the trimmings, finely chopped, to the filling as well.

Finally, not all recipes have you top the rolls in breadcrumbs or extra filling. They are roasted or grilled “naked”, then napped with  salmoriglio,  kind of green sauce very commonly used to accompany fish in Sicily.

Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls)

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Involtini di pesce spada (Swordfish Rolls)

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs) swordfish, trimmed of its skin and cut into very thin slices (see Notes)
  • Salt
  • For the filling:
  • 100g (1 cup) breadcrumbs
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • A small handful of raisins (about 25g) soaked in warm water
  • A small handful of pine nuts (about 25g)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • For topping:
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • More breadcrumbs if needed

Directions

  1. Lay out the swordfish slices on a cutting board or other flat surface, seasoning them generously on both sides.
  2. In a bowl, mixed the breadcrumbs with the minced garlic, raisins, pine nuts, minced parsley salt and pepper. (NB: If the raisins are very large, you may want to give them a rough chop.) Mix in the olive oil, bit by bit, until the mixture is well moistened and takes on the texture of wet sand. Taste and adjust for seasoning. The mixture should be very savory.
  3. Lay out the filling on top of the swordfish slices. then roll up the slices starting from the narrower end.
  4. You can cook the swordfish rolls one of two ways:
  5. Oven baking:
  6. Lay the resulting rolls in a baking dish large enough to just fit them snugly, as pictured above. Season the top of the rolls with salt and any remaining filling mixture. If you've used up all the filling, sprinkle with more breadcrumbs. Drizzle everything with olive oil.
  7. Set the baking dish in a hot (200C/400F) oven with the convection function turned on if it has it. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the rolls are cooked through. The top should be nicely browned, but if not you can run the dish under the broiler for a minute or two.
  8. Grilling: 
  9. Place the rolls on skewers (if you want, inter splicing fresh bay leaves between them). Roll the skewers in the remaining filling (or additional breadcrumbs) and drizzle them on both sides with olive oil. Grill the skewers over hot coals for about 5 minutes per side.
  10. In either case, let the dish cool for a few minutes before serving, with a wedge of lemon and possibly a simply dressed green salad.
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Comments

    1. Author

      Enjoy, Karen! Indeed, I’m sure the same technique would work equally well for any variety of fish.

  1. Ciao from Siracusa! I made involtini di pesce spada for our party of eight the other night in Catania – will be posting the version I got from my fish monger when I get back / a different version from yours! I’ll add a link to your post so people can see two (of several) versions.

    1. Author

      Wow, I bet you’re having a grand old time! As you’re cooking while there I’m assuming you got a home rather than a hotel, which is awesome. Can’t wait for the blog posts and photos… And curious to hear about the version you got from your fishmonger, from the other end of the island.

  2. I’ll confess, I don’t think I’ve ever had swordfish. I know, the opportunity just hasn’t come up. But these sure do sound and look delicious. And I’ll echo what I’m sure many have or will say: the pine nuts and raisins are brilliant for a seafood roll. Sign me up.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Bill! If you’ve not tried swordfish before, this would definitely be a good way to start.

  3. These swordfish rolls sound awesome, Frank! I haven’t had swordfish in a while (couple of years?) now, and this is really making me crave a good swordfish. But you’re right…swordfish is expensive. I’ve typically just grilled swordfish with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil, but this idea of rolling up thin slices is super intriguing. I definitely want to try this one out!

  4. One of my favorite Sicilian recipes. But it is a pain to slice them thinly enough. I left it to my fishmonger to do it once and he made a mess of it, cutting too thick and I had the difficult task of trying to slice it thinner. I have tried the freezer trick, and that does help. Great photos too Frank.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Linda! You’re right about the slices. The whole concept of thinly sliced swordfish doesn’t really seem to compute on this side of the pond.

  5. Like the idea, the look and the filling . . . like Ron am also wondering about alternate fish and methinks may have to buy a whole piece and slice it as finely as needed myself . . . we live too fast a life Down Under to have many fishmongers willing to oblige . . . 🙂 !

  6. Oh, this is a beautiful site! I especially love the pine nuts and raisins. Maybe a bit of Sicilian influence? Thanks.

  7. Oh yes, when I was in Sicily many years ago, the swordfish was the best I’d ever had. I haven’t had it since because the fish here just doesn’t measure up.

    Your involtini look divine! I’m actually hoping I can get to Sicily next year, so maybe I’ll have swordfish again (although the price thing isn’t appealing)!

  8. Terrific dish! I do have a fish monger that will slice swordfish for me, although I usually have to telephone ahead — otherwise all their swordfish will be cut into steaks. This looks so flavorful — just a neat dish. Thanks.

    1. Author

      Hope you enjoy it, John! You’re lucky to know a fish monger. These days that’s a rarity.

  9. Frank I enjoyed your post and especially your link to the fishing area and boat. I don’t know if I’d want to be the one up one top the 25 meter high mast in that small fishing boat. We don’t see much fresh swordfish up our way, but I’d love to try the dish. Do you think this technique would work on monk fish or maybe shark?

    1. Author

      Ha! I sure wouldn’t want to be the lookout, either! 😉

      I’m sure that a similar firm-fleshed fish would also do well as a substitute for swordfish. I haven’t worked with shark, but why not try it out? Otherwise, coming from a different angle, I bet sole would work very well.

  10. What a beautiful presentation, I would never have thought of using swordfish like this! I’m leaning toward the olive and caper combo though, the raisin stuffing has me quite perplexed. In Toronto, the most common pine nuts are from China and therefore, I have not had pine nuts in a really long time! Google Chinese pine nuts to find out why!
    Love the green sauce, an Italian chimichurri, if you will. Will definitely give this tasty dish a go (with the olive and caper combo).

    1. Author

      Sure, it’s a flexible recipe, and how you want to flavor the filling is up to each cook. Enjoy!

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