Recipe: Swordfish Spiedini with Farro Strozzapreti, Tomato, and Mint
In my first book, Pasta Improvvisata, I had a recipe for grilled calamari spiedini served over a bowl of herb-tossed pasta, a vibrant yet easy summer dish (vibrant yet easy is best accomplished in the summer, don’t you think?). I made the pasta a bit ahead, to serve just warm, threw the spiedini on the grill, and arranged one over each bowl of pasta. I love this type of concoction, a real piatto unico. Possibly it’s not classically Italian, but I’ve certainly seen dishes like it in Southern Italy, at some of the more creative restaurants. It makes a lot of sense to me. The flavors stay separate and clean, and you get that good grilled flavor. I’ve made the spiedini with shrimp and scallops, too, and various kinds of sturdy fish. Fish seem to work better than most meats. You want something easy to cut, so you can eat it along with bites of pasta without needing a steak knife, which is alarmingly inappropriate for pasta and would certainly have the Italian food police all agitated.
I tried this theme again last night with swordfish and sweet pepper spiedini over a cherry tomato and mint-dressed farro pasta. Finished with a sprinkling of slightly salty, crisp breadcrumbs, the dish felt summery but solid and boldly flavored, partly because I marinated the fish in assertive spices and then set it over a pasta loaded with fresh herbs.
You can really get creative with this two-piece assemble. Any sort of summer tomato sauce can be your pasta condimento. Or try just tossing a pasta with fresh herbs, garlic, and olive oil. I like playing around with pesto, too. Arugula makes a great pesto, so does a mix of parsley and mint, or parsley and marjoram, or basil and mint, or basil and a little tarragon. And any type of seafood that will stay put on a skewer can work here. Try oysters, big shrimp, tuna, or chunks of monkfish. Delicate whitefish like flounder are really out of the question. You’ll just wind up with a big mess and all the fish lying around on the sizzling coals.
Give this recipe a try, and if you like it, then go for broke. It’s what I consider summer cooking at its most freewheeling and happiest.
Swordfish Spiedini with Farro Strozzapreti, Tomatoes, and Mint
(Serves 2 as a main course)
½ cup homemade breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 pound swordfish, about 1½ inches thick, skinned and cut into approximately 1½-inch chunks (have four short shish kebab skewers ready)
½ teaspoon each of cumin and fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1 large sweet red pepper, cut into chunks
About 6 scallions, chopped into large pieces
½ pound farro or whole wheat strozzapreti or penne
2 pints sweet grape tomatoes
2 summer garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
A splash of sweet Marsala
A large handful of both basil and fresh spearmint, lightly chopped, plus a few sprigs of mint for garnish
Mix the toasted breadcrumbs with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and the sugar, and set it aside.
Put the swordfish chunks in a bowl, and sprinkle on the ground spices. Season with salt and black pepper, and give it a good toss to coat the fish well.
Skewer the swordfish, alternating with pieces of red pepper and scallion (you’ll have 2 skewers per person).
Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil. Season with a good amount of salt.
Drop in the pasta, and give it a quick stir.
In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame. When hot, add the tomatoes, and shake them around for a few minutes. When they just start to burst, add the garlic, and season them with salt and black pepper. Keep shaking the tomatoes until they’ve all burst and started to give off some juice. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a minute or so. Press down on the tomatoes to extract more juice.
When al dente, drain the pasta, and place it in a serving bowl. Pour on the tomatoes with all their juice, and add the basil and mint. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and toss well. Check for seasoning. Keep warm.
You can use an outdoor grill or a stove-top grill pan next. I used a grill pan, which I let heat up for a few minutes to get really hot.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the spiedini, and give them an extra sprinkle of salt and black pepper. Grill briefly on two sides, just until grill marks appear and the fish is tender, about 4 minutes total.
Arrange the spiedini over the pasta, and scatter some of the breadcrumbs over them. Garnish with the mint sprigs.