Last week, thanks to Italian Liberation Day, we had four days off from school—a welcome break in this high school-like schedule of classes from 9:00 to 4:00 Monday through Friday. Before bouncing to Berlin on Thursday for some cultural tourism in the form of museum-hopping, pretzel-munching, and zoo-ogling, I kicked off the long weekend at a small fish-themed dinner party with friends, thrown by our resident event planner extraordinaire, Julie.
Julie is blessed with living in the apartment with the best view in Bra (see above) and with serious culinary talent—she spent last year learning the ins and outs of Italian cooking at the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec. Everything she whips up, from endive spoons topped with walnut paté to a peanut-sauce drizzled tofu stir-fry served over vermicelli, exudes both elegance and effortlessness—it’s restaurant-quality food served from your friend’s kitchen.
So, I knew this wouldn’t be your average dinner-with-friends. Julie confirmed this at 7:25 AM on Wednesday with the following message: “Girls!!! I am just back from the market and I have met the most amazing fisherman!!! So I bought one big Barracuda!!!! I never had that so I am VERY excited!! And I also bought a big red snapper!! Both fished out of the sea, not from élevage. The red snapper still had the hook in his mouth ahahhaah!”
Never was there such exuberance at such an ungodly hour about fish. But, this being food school, of course we are the kinds of people who 1) seek out relationships with fishermen, 2) get excited about wild-caught fish (as opposed to farm-raised/élevage fish), and 3) are willing to purchase and cook something as frightful as barracuda.
Julie made it a point to buy whole fish, as she planned to season them simply and toss them on the grill. While the coals got glowing, she schooled us on some fresh-fish-buying pointers. When visiting the fishmonger, look for fish with the heads on—bright, clear eyes are a giveaway for freshness. If the fish is really fresh, the fishmonger will leave on the head; when they get dull and grey, he might lop it off. You should also check out the gills: on fresh fish, they’ll be bright red.
After cleaning the fish and filleting their bellies open, Julie seasoned them with salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and lemon slices, and slipped them onto the grill with aluminum foil underneath so that the skin wouldn’t stick. While they got their quick flame-licking, we tossed on Ashley’s aluminum foil packet of sliced eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and tomatoes (daubed with a block of feta cheese and sprinkled with oregano) to steam through. We rounded out the meal with a salad I threw together: Sicilian tomatoes, basil, and arugula, dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
It was all so simple: the delicate, sweet flavor of the red snapper; the firm, meatier flakes of barracuda; the creamy tang of feta melted on the grilled vegetables; the peppery arugula biting through the juicy tomatoes. We finished the night with Sarah’s pear crumble and rosemary tea. Perhaps that simplicity is why I’ll remember this as one of the best dinners I’ve had in Bra. It had all the elements of a nurturing and nourishing meal: a welcoming host, good conversation, and fresh, flavorful food.
[A bit of a post-script: This wild-caught fish dinner was especially appropriate, since next week is Slow Food’s biannual Slow Fish event in Genova. Slow Fish aims to promote artisanal fishing and neglected fish species and raise awareness about the current situation in the sea. Check out the Slow Fish website to learn more about what good, clean, fair fish looks like.]