In Italy, cooking fish and shellfish is all about freshness and simplicity—as I’ve said before, the philosophy of Italian fish cookery can be summed up in three words: Leave it alone. Complicated sauces and techniques are not part of the repertoire, and, in fact, Italians almost never serve any sauce at all with fish, other than an excellent olive oil.
Lemon may sometimes appear, but even that is often considered beside the point. The one exception is salsa verde, the fragrant green herb sauce, which may sometimes accompany a fish with character enough to stand up to it, such as a whole grilled branzino.
According to Nonna Box only few Italians would consider cooking anything other than local fish, whether from a mountain stream or the ocean, and I urge you to think in the same way: find a good fish market, and remember that what is freshest is best. If the specific fish called for in your recipe is not available—or doesn’t look pristine and glistening— the fishmonger can help you choose another option (I include suggestions for substitutions in many of the recipes).
If you are able to get fresh king mackerel for Mackerel “in Scapece” with Amalfi Lemon Salad, you will have the best mackerel dish you’ve ever tasted; if you can’t find it, make the recipe with very fresh bluefish, or move on to another one. Most of the other fish recipes, such as Monkfish in Prosciutto with Pesto Fregola and Swordfish Involtini Sicilian-Style, call for widely available varieties.
But you’ll want to be sure to get the best tuna available—sushi-quality, that is—for
Clams in Cartoccio are wrapped in a foil package and allowed to steam in their fragrant juices.
The shrimp in Shrimp Rosemary Spiedini alla Romagnola are threaded onto rosemary skewers, which impart their herbal fragrance and look sexy besides. I love cooking shellfish (and cephalopods) on a piastra, a flat griddle or stone placed on the hot grill , because it gives them a great sear and char, as in Sea Scallops alla Caprese or Marinated Calamari with Chickpeas, Olive Pesto, and Oranges.
Thinking globally while buying locally is especially important when you are buying fish. Some “trendy” fish have been overharvested to the point of extinction, and we now know that there can be problems with farmed fish as well, like salmon.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, at www.monterybayaquarium.com, maintains an up-to- date list of species that are being overfished in the United States and in the rest of the world. It’s an invaluable resource, and I urge you to consult it when writing your shopping list, as I do both at home and at the restaurants.
SPIEDINI IN LEMON LEAVES
2 pounds cleaned calamari (bodies and tentacles)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 lemons, preferably Meyer lemons
36 whole lemon leaves or fresh Kaffir lime leaves or 18 fresh bay leaves, cut lengthwise in half
Coarse sea salt
CUT THE CALAMARI BODIES
crosswise in half if large. Split the groups of tentacles into 2 pieces each. In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil, scallions, garlic, marjoram, and pepper, mixing well.
Add the calamari and stir to coat.
Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Cut 3 of the lemons into thin slices; you will need 36 slices. Cut the remaining lemon into wedges. Set aside.
If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes. Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.
Meanwhile, transfer the calamari to a plate; reserve the marinade. Assemble 12 spiedini, using both bodies and tentacles on each one and alternating the calamari with 3 lemon leaves and 3 lemon slices per skewer.
Season aggressively with kosher salt and place on a rimmed platter. Pour the marinade over and place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Place the skewers on the hottest part of the grill and cook, unmoved, for 6 minutes.
Using tongs, gently turn them over and cook for 4 to 6 minutes more, or until the edges of the calamari are crisp and golden brown.
Serve on the skewers, with olive oil for drizzling, coarse sea salt, and the lemon wedges.