This is a Ligurian recipe, first sampled in the beautiful seaside town of Camogli. There, they made it using swordfish and trofie pasta, which is the typical pasta of the Liguria region. Trofie can be difficult to get your hands on unless you go to an Italian store. I managed to find a tiny version of penne at Waitrose, which worked perfectly fine as a trofie impersonator, or you could also use a similar variety called casarecce. An unglamorous but equally tasty version of this dish can be made using fusili, which is found on every supermarket shelf. But do try to find trofie or one of the substitutes mentioned above, because it is the perfect size to catch the sauce and is not as chewy as fusili. For the fish, fresh sea bass fillets are ideal as swordfish is difficult to find – and due to its non-sustainable status – not stocked by many supermarkets.
3 small fillets of sea bass, or other similar white fish, skin on
1/3 C pistachio nuts, shell off
Big splash White wine (approx 1/4 C)
1 small clove of garlic, finely sliced
Your very best extra virgin olive oil
Trofie pasta, (1 C uncooked)
1/4 C (approx 1 ladleful) of hot water taken from the pasta towards the end of cooking
First, prepare the pistachio nuts. You’ll need to grind these in a food processor until they are finely chopped, like the picture above. Alternatively, you can chop this by hand. It’s best to take the time to do this step rather than buy chopped pistachios because they taste so much more like ‘pistachio’ (rather than dust.)
Turn a large pot of water on to boil. Add about half a teaspoon of salt to the water before you add the pasta. Cook the pasta as per the cooking instructions, taking care not to overcook it. Trofie is a small pasta and doesn’t take long, so time the pasta to be done when you finish cooking the fish.
Take a medium to large frying pan, turned on to medium heat and add the chopped garlic to some olive oil. Ensure that the oil is not too hot – the garlic should not take on any colour, just start to cook through. After 30 seconds, add the fish fillets. Lay them skin side down in the pan and cook for a minute or so in the garlic and oil. Turn the heat up. Once the pan is hot, pour in the white wine. Listen for the the hiss of the wine hitting the pan – that is what you want. Pour in enough wine so the liquid pools in the pan but the top of the fish is still visible. Turn the heat down so that the wine produces gentle bubbles. The objective is to gently poach the fish while reducing the wine in the pan. This should take about 5 minutes. You can tell the fish is cooked because it turns white.
Once the fish is cooked through, lift the whole fillets from the pan, taking care to leave as much of the garlic behind as possible. Peel the skin from the fish, then put the fish back in the pan and break it up with the spoon. Check the wine levels. If there is none left, add a little more. Grate in a small amount of parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper then tip in the finely chopped pistachios and stir everything together. By now the pasta will be cooked, so add this to the pan. The technique I use is to lift the pasta out of the water using a large flat spoon with holes, alternatively, you can drain it and pour it straight in, remembering to retain some pasta water. Stir the pasta into the sauce and add a couple of splashes of the pasta water to ensure the sauce stays smooth and velvety. Stir some of your best olive oil through everything, adding a little more on top because it really adds to this dish in place of cheese. And you are finished.
A note on the fish
Depending on the country that you live in, you will be able to find a white fish that works for this pasta. Of course you can use swordfish if you can find it (cook it in a similar way. It may take slightly longer but you want to cook it enough so you can flake it.)
In northern Europe or North America, sea bass is plentiful and affordable so I would recommend this. If I was cooking this in France or Italy, a daurade or red mullet would be delicious. And in New Zealand or Australia, snapper, terakihi or gurnard would work well.
If you like this, you may like the recipe for Pasta alla Carbonara