We have a special treat for you in this episode of Cooking with Mama Lombardo: our first guests ever on the show! Our hope is to more guests come on the show to share their Italian recipes (let us know if you’d like to come on- we’d love to have you!), and we start off with two very special guests for me, two of my grandchildren. Marco and Malena both provide some great laughs and bring their own special techniques to preparing this episode’s dish, pizza aeola or Italian style fish.
Fish is an important part of the Italian diet, given the country’s connection with the Mediterranean Sea. This is especially true in Sicily, where pesce spada (swordfish), tonno (tuna) and other big fish have played such an important role in everyday lives throughout history. Even today, buying fresh fish in the open markets, such as Palermo’s Vucciria, is lively everyday adventure and part of life.
Fish also plays an important part of the diet at this time of year, which is Lent. In Catholic Christian families around the world (Italian and otherwise), abstinence from meat (beef, pork, poultry) on Fridays is the practice. From this practice, a tradition of serving fish on Fridays evolved, a tradition we continue to embrace during the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday through Easter).
With this backdrop, I’m happy to share with you a special recipe handed down to me from my mother and aunts, called pizza aeola. I’m not really certain of the derivation of the name since it’s been lost in time (and probably evolved– as has many of the recipe names from word of mouth over time– from pesca d’aglio or garlic fish), but the name is appropriate because the fish is prepared with classic pizza toppings, and brings back the same memories as does pizza (see Episode 2- Mama Lombardo’s Pizza).
This recipe is really easy to prepare, requiring about 30 minutes total. The recipe serves about 3-4 people. The ingredients you’ll need are: 1.5 lbs of cleaned, skinless haddock filets (use more if you’d like to increase serving size), 1 clovee of garlic (use 2 if you really like garlic!), a handful of celery (use the tender top stalk leaves– not the main stalks), whole tomatoes (crushed), a 1/4 of small white onion, pecorino romano cheese, a pinch of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Preparing the toppings
Dice the cloves of garlic into fine pieces and chop the onions and garlic into diced pieces. Place them into seperate bowls. Grate the pecorino romano cheese and place in a bowl. For the tomatoes, you can use whole canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes. I only use fresh tomatoes if they are ripened and pulled fresh from the vine from the garden (typically only in the summertime). Take the about 3-4 of the whole tomatoes and crush them up with a fork in a dish. Set aside.
Preparing the fish
You will want to use a white, flaky fish for this recipe. Haddock is the best fish to use. Use fresh, not frozen fish. When buying it from your fish market, ask to make sure it’s fresh (that day) and to have it fileted. Make sure to have the skin removed (or you can remove the skin yourself at home if you so desire).
Wash the fish thoroughly, then place it in a large casserole dish. We will be baking and broiling it on the oven, so make sure the dish you use is appropriate for doing so. After placing it the dish, add the toppings: sprinkle the onions, garlic, celery, and tomatoes. Spread them evenly on top of the fish. Then sprinkle the oregano, salt and pepper over fish. Finally, spread the olive oil over the fish.
I also like to add thinly sliced potatoes around the fish, which add a nice side dish to the meal, especially since they absorb the flavors of the fish as they cook.
After you place the toppings on the fish, you’re ready to place it in the oven to cook! Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Once heated, place the fish in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes is up, place your oven on broil, then move the fish to the top shelf of the oven for 3-5 minutes. This will help the fish brown on top, which adds a delicious texture to the fish.
Take the fish out of the oven, then serve hot! Buon appetito!