Mozzarella with tomatoes. You’d have to be brain-dead to say no to that. But mozzarella with swordfish? One of the big shocks of my Italian culinary life was visiting Sicily and seeing how often they pair fish with cheese, something I was brought up to consider bad manners. I discovered in Palermo that a sprinkling of pecorino on baked tuna is a wonderful thing. Spaghetti with shrimp and tomatoes and a little aged caciocavallo, that tasted just fine, too. I also noticed that cheese, along with bread crumbs, herbs, and maybe pine nuts and raisins, makes a wonderful filling for stuffed sardines.
Somehow I was thinking recently that the meatiness of swordfish, a popular fish in Sicily, and the plushness of mozzarella would produce a pleasant match. And they did. I tell you, it was really good.
Swordfish with salmoriglio sauce is a Palermo classic. The sauce is so simple yet has such intense flavor, you won’t believe it. Just herbs, your best olive oil, lemon, and a touch of garlic. There are cooked and uncooked versions. For summer, I like it cool and fresh. It’s used on meat and fish, but it’s also great on mozzarella, so I suppose that’s how the connection found its way into my head. This is a piatto unico, a meal on a plate. You’ll want the salmoriglio to spill off the fish so a little works its way onto the salad. All the flavors should blend. Since these flavors are distinct, the blend will be a vibrant one. Sicilian food is like that, even when improvised.
So here’s another low-carb Mediterranean offering for you pleasure-seeking dieters. Ditch the bread, but go for a glass of good Italian rosato.
Seared Swordfish with Salmoriglio and a Tomato, Mozzarella, and Celery Leaf Salad
For the salmoriglio:
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
The juice from half a large lemon
1 summer garlic clove, minced
About 6 sprigs each fresh marjoram and oregano, the leaves chopped
For the salad:
8 summer cherry tomatoes, cut in half and drained for about ½ hour
½ pound not-too-soft mozzarella, cut into medium cubes
½ cup celery leaves, left whole
A few thin slices red shallot
3 sprigs marjoram, the leaves left whole
Extra-virgin olive oil
A drizzle of lemon juice
A palmful of baby arugula
2 thick slices, about ½ pound each, swordfish steak
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the salmoriglio together. Set aside. This should be made about ½ hour before serving, but not much longer or the herbs will lose their freshness.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the salad except the arugula, and give them a toss.
Put a heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron will work well) over medium-high flame. Season the swordfish with salt and black pepper, and coat each side with a little olive oil.
When the skillet is hot, add the swordfish and sear, without moving the pieces around, until the bottoms are nicely browned and the fish moves easily in the skillet. Give them a flip, and brown the other side. The entire cooking time shouldn’t be more than about 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. You’ll want to keep the center a bit underdone, since swordfish can easily become dry.
Place the fish on two dinner plates. Put a little mound of arugula next to the fish. Divide the salad up onto the arugula. Drizzle the salmoriglio over the fish. Serve right away.