Swordfish in Sicily is at its absolute finest, tables at the outdoor markets display large rounds of whole swordfish with the head complete with sword set proudly alongside, cut to order this is about a fresh as it gets. Whether it be crudo, grilled, stuffed, or polpette the fresh flavor of the sea prevails. Fresh swordfish is actually quite neutral in flavor and lends itself to the ingredients of the island. A late night dinner in Palermo at Il Ghiottone Raffinato we sampled the most exquisite swordfish polpette, the chef was polite yet firm about not giving away any of his secretes. Sicilian Swordfish “Meatballs” is an attempt to capture a food memory from that special evening.
No longer able to take an early morning stroll to the Capo Mercato in Palermo, I relied on my preferred local fishmonger for the swordfish steaks as I am certain he received deliveries early each morning.
The other elements reflect the diversity of Sicily over centuries – cinnamon, mint, pine nuts, lemon and a bit of pecorino. An egg and some fresh bread crumbs to hold those little balls of goodness together and we are ready to go.
Your hands are the best tools in mixing the ingredients for Sicilian Swordfish Balls, making sure that you gently yet thoroughly combine all of the flavors. A light roll in a combination of semolina and all purpose flour helps to form a bit of a crust.
While the swordfish balls rest in the refrigerator, prepare the tomato sauce by first passing San Marzano tomatoes through the smallest hole in a food mill. A hint of cinnamon, a sprig of fresh mint and a bit of garlic give the finished sauce a subtle taste of Sicily.
The fried swordfish balls should be immediately drained on paper toweling before gently heating in the tomato sauce before serving.
Sicilian Swordfish Balls make an ideal summer appetizer or secondi served with your favorite Sicilian white wine.
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- 1 pound of fresh swordfish steak from a reliable fishmonger
- 2½ cup of fresh breadcrumbs from quality European stye bread
- ½ cup grated Pecorino
- 1 large egg
- 3 Tbs. pine nuts
- 3 Tbs. shredded mint leaves
- Finely grated peel of 1 large lemon
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup semolina flour
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- Pinch of sea salt
- Olive oil and Sunflower oil for frying
- 1 - 28 ounce can of San Marzano whole tomatoes
- Olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
- Small pinch of cinnamon
- 1 sprig fresh mint
- Fresh mint to garnish the finished dish
- Remove any skin from the swordfish and cut it into half inch dice. Once the swordfish has been diced, reserve half of it and with the other half begin to cut into finer pieces by going back and forth over the diced swordfish with the blade of your chef’s knife. This will result in a finer, yet uneven texture swordfish which when combined with the other ingredients will help stabilize the polpette. Place all of the swordfish into a medium sized mixing bowl.
- Add the breadcrumbs, pecorino, egg, pine nuts, shredded mint leaves, lemon zest, cinnamon, a bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to the bowl. Using your clean hands, gently combine all of the ingredients making sure the mixture is well amalgamated.
- Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment.
- Combine the Semolina and All Purpose flours with a pinch of salt and place on a large plate.
- Using you hands, form the mixture into golf ball sized polpette and roll each into the flour mixture, lay on the prepared parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate the finished polpette for 3 to 4 hours.
- Begin the sauce by adding a few tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the sliced garlic and let it sizzle to release the flavor, do not let it burn. Pass the San Marzano tomatoes through a food mill into the saucepan. Add the small pinch of cinnamon and mint sprig. Simmer over low heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
- In a heavy skillet (I used cast iron) add about ½ inch of an equal amount of olive and sunflower oil. Heat over medium high heat until the oil is hot. Remove the polpette from the refrigerator and arrange a paper towel lined plate next to the fry pan. Gently place the polpette into the hot oil without crowding the pan; you want to fry them not steam them in oil. Give the polpette time to properly brown on one side before turning them, a table fork works well. As the polpette become brown on all sides remove them to the paper towel to drain of any excess oil.
- Gently warm the tomato sauce, remove the mint sprig and garlic slices. Place the fried polpette into the sauce once it is warm, turning them to be sure that they are all coated in the sauce. Allow the polpette to warm, they need not cook.
- Spoon a bit of sauce into individual serving bowls and place 2 to 3 polpette in each bowl, topped with a bit more sauce and some mint for garnish. Serve immediately