Swordfish – Ortigia Market Dinner

March 2nd, 2010 / Comments 14

veg patchwork 0rtigia 01 Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner Most mornings I walk to the open-air market with no idea of what I will buy. The fresh vegetable stalls are piled high with white and purple cauliflower, broccoli, plum tomatoes still attached to vines, fluted heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, fennel, potatoes, carrots, onions and eggplant all carefully arranged to form a patchwork of colors.

There are leafy greens that I can’t identify near the familiar bunches of parsley, mint and basil. I bought a few small potatoes, one zucchini, and bunches of parsley and mint from the vendor who waited patiently as I figured out the correct combination of coins to pay him.

oranges ortigia Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

The fruit stalls are filled with citrus – blood oranges, mandarins, ordinary lemons and two-fisted, lumpy Sicilian lemons. One stall had five small containers of wild strawberries. They were three times as expensive as the more familiar cultivated ones but I couldn’t resist the extravagance.

The fish section of the market is the most lively.

fish vendor sicily 041 Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

The loud calls of men selling fish and seafood fill the air with promises and banter that I don’t understand.

fish vendor 02 sicily1 Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

The metal tables are filled with squid, cuttlefish, three kinds of shrimp, cockles, mussels, sea urchin, octopus, fish filets, mustard-yellow dotted eels, small pink fish, and silver striped black striped fish. A large piece of fish ready to be sliced into steaks sat beside the up-ended head of the swordfish it came from. I decided on swordfish for dinner because it would be the simplest to cook. I used my fingers to indicate that I wanted a one-inch thick steak. I’ll deal with boning, skinning, filleting and cleaning the less familiar fish another day.

The vendors who sell ripe and green, brine and oil cured olives, also sell heads of garlic, and capers and anchovies preserved in salt.

tomato paste ortigia Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

A spatula that looks like a putty knife sat on a large platter next to a mound of tomato paste made from sun dried tomatoes. I bought an herb blend marked Herba Tipico Siciliano and a small quantity of salted capers to experiment with.

The smoky smell of peppers and onions roasting on a small charcoal grill at the end of the lane perfumed the air. This was the only stall where a woman was working. Her husband was in charge of roasting and negotiating sales and her role was limited to wrapping a pepper after I had paid for it.

The cheese man tempts every passer-by with a sample. He reaches across the cheese case to offer samples of smoked mozzarella or provolone on the tip of his huge knife. When I pointed at the creamy cheese studded with red peppers, he used that same knife to create an instant sandwich with the cheese, bits of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil and a crust of ciabatta bread. His smile was at least as sweet as the cannoli I bought from him for our dessert.

chocolate vendor ortigia Swordfish   Ortigia Market Dinner

My heavy market bag made it easy to resist stopping at the stalls with almonds and walnuts, blocks of almond paste, dates, dried fruit and chocolate bars from Modica that are seasoned with black pepper, ginger, orange or chili. I considered menu possibilities as I walked home until I was distracted by a young girl trying to perfect her skating technique in the Piazza Doumo. By the time I finished unpacking the groceries, I had decided to marinate the swordfish and then bake it. Parsley would flavor a mixture of vegetables, and the wild strawberries would top the already perfect canolli. Dinner was meraviglioso! Here’s how I did it:

Lemon Swordfish/Pescespada Limone

For the marinade, I combined two teaspoons of lemon zest from the lumpy Sicilian lemon, with a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of olive oil and a generous grind of black pepper. I covered both sides of the swordfish with the marinade and left it for half an hour while I prepared the vegetables and pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees.

I baked the fish for approximately 12 minutes, until it flaked easily with the tip of my knife. Fish continues to cook after it is taken out of the oven so it is important not to overcook it. I topped each serving with a tablespoon of freshly squeezed blood orange juice.

Vegetable Medley/Verdura Mescolanza

I cut two medium potatoes in quarters and parboiled them in salted water. While they cooked, I julienned two medium carrots and one zucchini. When the potatoes were nearly tender, I added the carrot pieces to the pot, and cooked them for another minute.

I melted a tablespoon of butter with a teaspoon olive oil in a frying pan and added the drained potatoes and carrots and the uncooked zucchini to the pan. When the potatoes had begun to brown and the zucchini was tender I added six small whole tomatoes and a handful of parsley leaves. In a couple of minutes the tomatoes were heated through and the parsley had imparted its flavor and dinner was ready.

The cannoli, cut in half and garnished with wild strawberries, followed the main course after a reasonable interval.

Swordfish List

  • lemon
  • olive oil
  • black pepper
  • orange juice

Vegetable Medley List

  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • zucchini
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • tomatoes
  • parsley leaves

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• 14 Responses to “Swordfish – Ortigia Market Dinner”

  • Carol,
    I have been forwarding your blog to my granddaughter who is presently studying in Ferrara and filling her life with touring in between. I hope she has been inspired by your recipes (and beautiful watercolors)as she is a novice cook.
    We will be glad to have you back in our midst in (late spring) VT! Last year you taught me about ramps but look as I did, I never found them!

  • penny mcconnel says:

    Ciao da Norwich Carol.

    Thank you so much for more more and more. I saw the recipe in the Valley News but decided to wait for the email/blog, so I could print it out on the computer.

    Fresh greens at Killdeer on Saturday and a hugh wet snow coming, so they say, domani.

    Grazie mila,

    Penny McConnel

  • Annie Houston says:

    Your photos and words give such vivid images to your experience in Italy, that I can imagine being there with you at the market!

  • fairmuse100 says:

    Thank you for your blog – I am in Ortigia right now and relate to your description.

  • Sarah says:

    You are so lucky to be in Sicily at the moment, and not only because of the weather… I really enjoyed these market pictures.

  • Annie says:

    I love the way you describe this experience! It’s everything I thought it would be. When I finally get to go to Italy, (every area one day), I will speak the language that I studied for several years in the amazing marketplace. Wonderful!

  • Drick says:

    I do so enjoy your experiences – we have a neighborhood couple that has moved to Florence for several years, can’t wait to hear of their next adventures – all they talk about is how nice it is and how friendly everyone is to them, of course, he is a priest, that may help!!!

  • Michael says:

    It really looks like you are living the good life. Even though I am in Italy (the opposite end) and I am heading in your direction soon, I am still jealous. Keep posting these great experiences. Thanks


  • Lucia says:

    Wow. I am sold on that vegetable dish. Your recipes are inspiring. What I love about Italian food is its simplicity that results in such flavorful meals. I loved you adding blood orange to the swordfish.

  • Carol says:

    Thanks, the pictures cannot convey the smiles that greet me each day. The vendors are friendly and it is an extra ordinary luxury.

  • Laurie says:

    I would give anything (almost) to have a market close enough to walk to and they be open on a daily basis. What a beautiful display! And that vegetable medley sounds so scrumptious!

  • wasabi prime says:

    WOW. Beautiful photos. The colors, textures — I feel like I could almost smell how fresh and delightful everything is.

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