Outside of Italy, most people consider “Italian food” as one cuisine. In fact, the Italian cuisine is very local, and even the next village over may prepare a dish differently. During our vacation to Southern Italy last year, we enjoyed what can be considered an Italian fusion dishat Don Alfonso in Campania. The spaghetti aglio-olio-peperoncino (with garlic, olive oil, and chilli pepper) is a Southern dish, but it was served with mackerel “in carpione”, which hails from the northern region of Piemonte. This way of preparing fish, especially fresh water fish, is very common in Northern Italy. First a marinade is prepared with onions and vinegar, and then the fish is marinated in this. Originally this was used for carp, hence the name “in carpione”, but nowadays it is used for all kinds of fish, but also meat and vegetables. Many recipes call for dusting the fish with flour and frying it first, but for a lighter and more juicy result I prefer to cook the fish in the marinade as it cools. A very similar preparation from Venice is “in saor”, with the main difference that more flavors are added to the marinade.
As always with simple dishes like this, it is important to use high quality ingredients and cook them just right. This is why a humble dish such as this could be on the menu of a two Michelin star restaurant like Don Alfonso. The mackerel must be impeccably fresh and should not be overcooked, and you should use good extra virgin olive oil. Here is my version.
For 4 servings
about 400 grams (.9 lb) fresh mackerel fillets without skin
1 large onion, thinly sliced
250 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
120 ml (1/2 cup) white wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 sage leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
300 grams (.66 lb) spaghetti
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp peperoncino flakes
1/2 Tbsp minced flat leaf parsley
4 Tbsp coarse breadcrumbs
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced onion, and season with salt.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, until the onion is soft and slightly golden, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the mackerel. If the center bones are still there, cut out a narrow strip in the center of each fillet to remove them. Season the mackerel on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
When the onions are done, add the white wine and vinegar.
Add bay leaves and sage, and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 1 minute, then turn off the heat.
Add the mackerel fillets in a single layer. Allow the hot marinade to cook the fish.
After one minute, carefully turn the mackerel fillets. Allow the mackerel to cool in the marinade, then refrigerate, and allow to marinate for at least a couple of hours but preferably overnight.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and salt, and cook for the time indicated on the package for al dente.
In the meantime, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the breadcrumbs.
Stir over medium heat until the breadcrumbs are crispy, but be careful they don’t become too dark.
In another frying pan, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil with minced garlic and chilli flakes. Stir over low heat to flavor the oil without coloring the garlic too much.
When the spaghetti is cooked, add it to the oil with garlic and peperoncino…
…together with the minced parsley.
Toss the spaghetti with the oil.
Serve the spaghetti with the mackerel and onions. Sprinkle the spaghetti with the breadcrumbs, and drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil you can afford.
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