I’ve called this Italian Fish Stew because it’s totally inspired by the wonderful fish stew I’ve had a couple of times recently at one of my favourite local restaurants, Masaniello. I just couldn’t resist trying to make it myself, so today I went down the road to the excellent Sandys Fishmongers in Twickenham’s high street – which happens to be where Livio, head chef/owner of Masaniell0, buys his fish too!
Livio’s fish stew is a mix of different fish and seafood in a rich, slightly spicy tomato sauce. He thickens it with fregola – a kind of pasta that’s a bit like large couscous and comes from Sardinia. Rather than go in search of fregola (though I did think Corto Italian Deli might stock it), I decided to use orzo, a pasta that looks like rice grains, and I already had in my store cupboard.
At Sandys I told them I wanted small amounts of a few things for a fish stew. I chose some large raw tiger prawns, some cleaned baby squid, mussels and a piece of cod. Back at home, I made the tomato sauce base first in advance, so that comes suppertime, the finishing step of adding the fish – which would only take a few minutes to cook – could be done at the last minute.
Italian Fish Stew – Serves 2-3
- a selection of fish, e.g. about 8-10 mussels, cod fillet, 2 baby squid (cleaned), 4 large raw tiger prawns
- 5 medium-large tomatoes, skinned and chopped
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 stick celery, finely chopped
- about ¼ head of fennel, sliced
- extra virgin olive oil
- large pinch dried chilli flakes
- stalks from small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped (save tops for making gremolata)
- large pinch saffron, soaked in warm water
- 2 tablespoons tomato purée
- 2 slices lemon zest, cut with a vegetable peeler
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 187ml white white
- 2 handfuls of orzo pasta
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- finely chopped small bunch flat-leaf parsley
- garlic toast
First of all, I skinned the tomatoes, took out the hard stem, and then chopped them. Next I added the chopped shallots, celery, fennel slices and pinch of chilli flakes to some oil in a large shallow pan (that had a lid for later) and gently fried until softening. Then I added the chopped tomatoes, stirred in well, and allowed to cook for a few minutes until the tomato pieces started to soften. Next I added the saffron and chopped parsley stalks with the tomato purée, lemon zest slices, seasoning with salt and pepper, and stirred to mix everything together well.
Then I added the wine (I used a small, individual sized bottle – hence the amount, but use that as a guide to roughly the amount needed). Stir well, bring to simmer, and allow to cook gently for a few minutes until the alcohol has burned off from the wine and the sauce has thickened a bit. (At this point I turned the heat off and left to later, finishing near suppertime, reheating the sauce before adding the fish.) Now add the orzo. Give it a good stir. You’ll probably need some extra hot water (or fish stock if you have it) if the mixture is too thick – you don’t want a ‘risotto’ texture; it’s a stew. The orzo needed 9-11 minutes cooking so I cooked it for about 5 minutes before starting to add the fish.
I cut the cod into bite-sized chunks and cut the squid into about ½cm slices. I added the cod, then the squid, then the prawns. I left it all to cook with a lid on, until the prawns had turned a red-pink colour, showing they were done (just a couple of minutes – watch carefully so they don’t overcook and toughen). Now I threw in the mussels, which only needed a couple of minutes, and put the lid back on the pan.
Meanwhile I made a gremolata by chopping a small bunch of parsley, the grated zest of 1 lemon and a crushed clove of garlic. Mix it all together – easiest done with fingers. Toast a large slice of sourdough bread, rub with garlic and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil. (At Masaniello I had pizza garlic bread – wonderful wood-fired Naples style pizza with garlic. But making pizza as well as the stew was definitely going to be taking on too much!)
There was plenty of stew for 2 and maybe enough for 3. I spooned a portion into a serving dish. I put the garlic toast to the side and sprinkled over some of the gremolata.
It looked pretty fabulous. I was really pleased with my effort! It tasted great too. Maybe not quite the same as Livio’s but certainly something to be proud of.