One of my favourite restaurants in London is Bancone and I’ve been to it a few times since it opened in August last year. The first time I went I had this amazing paccheri and cod dish that I loved so much, I had it the second time too. I’ve often thought about trying to recreate it at home and it’s taken me eight months. But tonight was the night … and casting all modesty aside, I think I managed a pretty good job! Above is my dish … just below, Bancone’s.
I took some cod out of my freezer after lunch, thinking I’d do something quite simple with it for supper. Then when I went to Corto Italian Deli for an afternoon coffee, I decided on something a bit more ambitious – I would make that Bancone dish. ‘Have you got some paccheri?’ I asked Romina. Romina’s deli is the most wonderful source of Italian food. ‘Yes,’ she told me. ‘Are you making a fish sauce?’ To Italians it’s very important to have the right shape and size pasta for whatever sauce you’re making. Happily I’d got it right! Paccheri are short, fat tubes of pasta from Naples. Apart from Bancone, I’ve often eaten it with fish at Masaniello, a few doors down from Corto, in Twickenham, where the head chef Livio comes from Naples.
I don’t know exactly what goes into Bancone’s dish; I don’t have their recipe. But there are two obvious differences between theirs and mine: they use cods’ cheeks (I used a portion of cod loin); Bancone scatter almonds on top while I went with hazelnuts. Hazelnuts because I’m still in a slight ‘Turin mode’ after my trip there two weeks’ ago and hazelnuts feature in a lot of Turin dishes, both sweet and savoury. Other than that, this was as close as I could guess.
Paccheri with Cod, Tomatoes, Olives, Capers, Hazelnuts & Pangrattato (Serves 1)
- a handful of hazelnuts
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and a little extra for garnish
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- 100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 50ml white wine
- 1 teaspoon capers
- about 12 black olives
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 piece cod fillet (about 120g)
- 100g paccheri (large tubes of pasta)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 slightly crushed clove of garlic
- pinch of dried chilli flakes
- 30g breadcrumbs (made from stale bread)
- pinch sea salt
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
First pan-roast the hazelnuts. I made life slightly more difficult for myself by using ones that hadn’t been skinned, but they were organic! Dry roast them over a moderate-high heat in a small frying pan (no oil needed). When they begin to colour, tip onto a piece of kitchen towel and rub take off the skins. If like me you don’t manage to get all the skin off, don’t worry. Tip them into a mortar and pestle and crush lightly. Transfer to a small bowl and put aside.
Now make the pangrattato. This is simply the Italian word for ‘breadcrumbs’. It’s been quite fashionable in Italian restaurants of late to scatter browned breadcrumbs over the top of some pasta dishes. It adds a nice bit of extra interest in both looks and taste. I also added some parsley but that’s optional.
In a small pan, put the olive oil with the garlic and chilli flakes over a moderate heat. When you see the oil start to sizzle a little, tip in the breadcrumbs. Immediately start stirring round, folding them over to get every crumb coated in hot oil. When they’re nicely golden, add a pinch of sea salt, stir, then tip onto some kitchen towel to soak up excess oil. Remove the crushed garlic. When cool, mix with the parsley and put in a small bowl. Set aside.
Now make the sauce. Fry the shallot in the oil over a low to moderate heat until softening and starting to brown. Tip in the tomatoes. Stir regularly.
When the tomatoes are softening, tip in the white wine. Stir and allow to bubble over a moderate heat for a couple of minutes for the wine to burn off the alcohol and reduce a little. Add the capers and olives. I used tiny taggiasche olives from Liguria which are quite sweet and mild. They’re so tiny I put in about 20 but if using more usual sized black olives you’d probably only need about a dozen. Check seasoning. Depending on the saltiness of the capers and olives, you may or may not need more salt; add a little black pepper to taste. Turn the heat off but keep warm.
I decided to grill the fish rather than cook it in the sauce. I didn’t want the sauce to be overpoweringly fishy but to stand on its own alongside the fish. Brush a little oil over the fish and season lightly. Grill until just tender and it flakes easily. Transfer to a plate and flake into chunks. Tip into the sauce.
Stir and heat through again quite gently.
Meanwhile have the paccheri cooking (mine took 15 minutes according to the packet instructions). When al dente (retaining a slight bite), drain (keep a little of the cooking water) and tip into the fish sauce.
Fold it all together gently over a low heat. Add a little of the pasta water if you need to loosen it a bit. Then spoon into a serving dish – a shallow bowl is best. Scatter over some of the hazelnuts and then some of the pangrattato (you won’t need all of them so cover them in clingfilm and they’ll keep for a couple of days in the fridge). Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil to finish.
Wow! It was fantastic. I think it was pretty close to what I’d loved at Bancone but the important thing was it worked really well and was delicious. The flavours were gorgeous; there was a delightful contrast of textures from the soft fish, al dente pasta and crunchy nuts. This could become a favourite at home, not just at the restaurant!