Yes, it's April 1st everyone: known in America as April Fool's Day, and in Italy, bizarrely, as Pesce d'Aprile, translated as "April Fish." All over the Italian peninsula today, giggling school children are sticking colorful paper cut-outs of fish on unsuspecting schoolmates' backs (hilaaaaarious, I know). Of course these pranks aren't limited strictly to fish, or to schoolchildren. But today in New York, the sun is finally shining and it's 63 degrees out. So I don't really care about pranks right now. I want to take in the sunlight and the temperate weather.
So, at the risk of seeming like a humorless twit, I'm going to skip the practical jokes and concentrate on the pesce part of the Pesce d'Aprile: fish. When I think of spring warmth and sunshine, I think of Sicily. And lemons. My first trip to Sicily was in the month of April, and it was a glorious week with some of the most amazing Italian food I'd ever tasted (authentic Sicilian is still perhaps my favorite regional Italian cuisine). The recipe below highlights the island's wonderful citrus, in a dish of Fish with Salmoriglio -- a light, lemony, herby sauce shot through with plenty of garlic that's a perfect foil to meaty or oily fish. Pesce spada (swordfish) or mackerel would be the most likely fish varieties used in Sicilia. I like to use the large bunches of dried oregano that come from Sicily and Calabria as the main herb in the sauce, though adding a bit of parsley and rosemary work to give the sauce some extra green notes, both in flavor and color.
Salmoriglio is best with white, flaky fish or steak fish, I think, but also works with shellfish and grilled meats. Whatever you pair it with, it imparts a bit of sunshine to the dish -- a bit of agrumi (citrus). Very Sicilian. And much better than that other Sicilian notion involving fish, particularly popular in Corleone: sleeping with the fishes. Buon Pesce d'Aprile! And buon appetito!
PESCE CON SALMORIGLIO
4 1-inch thick slices or fillets of whitefish (about 1½ pounds), cleaned
1/2 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Sicilian
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely
Pinch of oregano, or a mix of fresh herbs (oregano, parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme)
Salt & pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, zest one of the lemons (careful not to include the white pith), and juice both lemons. Stir together with garlic. Slowly add 1/3 cup olive oil in a stream to make a sort of citronette. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. (If you want the garlic taste to be mellowed, heat this mixture in a pan and warm for 5 minutes to cook the garlic a bit).
- Warm a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medum heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt just before placing it in the sauté pan. Sauté until golden brown. Flip and proceed the same way on the second side.
- In the meantime, chop the herbs finely. Add to the lemon-garlic-oil mixture. Adjust seasoning as needed.
- Transfer fish to a platter, drizzle with the salmoriglio sauce, and serve warm or at room temperature.