From Sicily, with love

Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi
09 February, 2017

Recreate the magic of Sicily with these vibrant seafood dishes this Valentine's Day, each with a pitch-perfect wine match selected by our friends at Halliday.

Raw sea bass with a mint and lemon dressing
Serves 6 as a starter

Raw fish dishes are enjoyed all over Italy as so much of the country lies on the coast. To eat fish raw it should be very fresh or previously commercially frozen at very low temperatures – this process kills any parasites, if you are concerned. Try adding little cubes of fruit such as peach, melon or strawberry that give it a summery feel. The lemon juice ‘cooks’ thinly cut fish in minutes, turning it from translucent pinkish grey to opaque white.

1 red onion, very finely sliced into rings
4 × 125 g fillets of very fresh sea bream, sea bass or haddock*, pinboned and skinned
¼–½ red chilli, according to taste, finely chopped
Small handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salmoriglio dressing
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 heaped tsp fresh or dried oregano
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the red onion slices into a bowl of cold water for around 15 minutes to reduce their strength of flavour. Slice the fish with a sharp knife at a 45-degree angle across the fillet so that you end up with pieces about 3 mm thick. Lay the slices onto serving plates. Drain the onions and briefly dry on kitchen paper. Scatter the onions, chilli and mint over the fish. At this point, the plates can be stored, covered, in the fridge.

To make the dressing, put the parsley and garlic together in a bowl, pour over 3 tablespoons of boiling water and add the oregano. Use the back of a spoon to press the herbs and garlic down in the water – this helps to release the essential oils and adds to the flavour. Pour in the oil and set aside to cool. Add the lemon juice and season to taste.

When ready to serve, season the fish evenly and pour over the dressing. Leave it for around 5 minutes at room temperature. The longer you leave the dressing on the fish, the more it will be ‘cooked’ by the acidity, so serve straight away or leave a little longer for a more ‘cooked’ texture.

Wine match: 2005 Poole's Rock Museum Semillon 
The light, citrus flavours of semillon complement the flavours of this delicate dish – a classic pairing of semillon and seafood! – Winemaker Jeff Byrne

Sauteed mussels in garlic and white wine
Serves 4

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 kg fresh live mussels, cleaned and debearded
100 ml (scant ½ cup) white wine
Large handful parsley, finely chopped

Heat the oil with the garlic and some seasoning in a large frying pan with a lid. When you can smell the garlic, add the mussels and wine.

Cover and cook, shaking the pan frequently. When the last mussel opens (discard any that stay shut), add the parsley and serve straight away with focaccia.

Wine match: 2015 Audrey Wilkinson Chardonnay
The rich, classic flavours of this dish are balanced by the crisp acidity from this young, fresh chardonnay. – Winemaker Jeff Byrne

Salmon baked with oranges and thyme
Serves 4

Salmon stands up well to the sweet flavour of orange and, married with the thyme and pepper, this incredibly simple dish becomes more impressive than the sum of its parts.

2 sweet oranges
4 salmon fillets (approximately 700 g total weight)
A few sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100 ml (scant ½ cup) white wine

Citrus couscous salad from Mandranova
5 spring onions, roughly chopped into 1 cm lengths
150 g (generous ⅔ cup) wheat or maize couscous
50 g (½ cup) flaked almonds
50 g (½ cup) pine nuts
50 g (⅓ cup) stoned green olives, roughly chopped
150 g leaves, such as basil, parsley, rocket, celery and coriander, roughly chopped

For the dressing
100ml fruity extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
1 tsp runny honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut away the skin and all the white pith from the oranges. Neatly cut the segments from between the membrane and set aside, collecting any juice in a bowl.

Make four cuts into the salmon fillets at a 45-degree angle, stopping 1cm short of the skin. Insert an orange segment into each cut and put the fillets (skin-side down) into an ovenproof dish. Scatter over the thyme leaves and season the fish with salt and plenty of pepper. Pour over the reserved orange juice, olive oil and wine. Scatter any remaining segments of orange around the fish. Bake for 20 minutes or until the fish is firm to the touch and cooked through.

For the couscous salad, soak the spring onions in cold water for 15 minutes to reduce the strength. Soak the couscous in hot water or stock according to the packet instructions. Put the nuts on a baking tray and brown in the oven (at 200°C for 5 to 7 minutes). When golden, tip onto a plate to cool.

To make the dressing, stir the ingredients together in a small bowl, seasoning to taste.

Fluff up the couscous with a fork, fold in the remaining ingredients and the dressing. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve at room temperature. Serve the salmon hot with the couscous salad.

Wine match: 2016 Poole's Rock Chardonnay
The succulent oiliness of salmon is well balanced by a powerful, full-bodied chardonnay. The stone fruit flavours of the chardonnay pair beautifully with the richness of this dish. – Winemaker Jeff Byrne

Tuna steaks in a quinoa crust on sauteed zucchini
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter

This light and lovely dish comes from the stunning Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina. A quicker version if you are in a hurry is to coat the fish in finely crushed pistachios instead.

100 g (½ cup) quinoa
280 ml (scant 1¼ cups) water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp salted butter
100 ml (scant ½ cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
50 g (scant ¼ cup) caster sugar
80 ml (⅓ cup) white wine vinegar
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed to open them
1 star anise
1 tsp black peppercorns
600 g sustainably caught fresh tuna, cut into 4 or 6 steaks
1 egg white, loosely beaten
2 zucchini, cut into julienne strips
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes
A few micro leaves or mint, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cook the quinoa in the water with a pinch of salt until the liquid evaporates completely. Keep stirring the pan with a wooden spoon; the quinoa will crackle and won’t cook through but you will have a lovely crunchy result.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the dried-out quinoa. Sauté the quinoa until it turns golden brown – around 5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and allow to cool.

Mix the orange juice, sugar and vinegar together in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and let the sauce bubble for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spices. Let them infuse for 20 minutes and then strain the sauce through a sieve into a bowl.

Season the tuna steaks with salt. Dip them in the egg white and then in the crispy quinoa and bake in an ovenproof dish for 6 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the zucchini in the oil with a little seasoning for just a couple of minutes and place some in the centre of each plate.

Cut the tuna steaks in half, put them on the zucchini and drizzle over a little of the spiced orange sauce, with a few splashes around the plate. Serve straight away garnished with some sea salt flakes and a few micro herbs or mint leaves.

Variation: Coat the tuna steaks in 50 g peeled green pistachios roughly ground in a food processor instead of the quinoa.

Wine match: 2016 Audrey Wilkinson Rosé
The bright berry flavours of this refreshingly dry rosé are the perfect accompaniment to the bold flavours of tuna steak. – Winemaker Jeff Byrne

This is an edited extract from Sicily by Katie & Giancarlo Caldesi, published by Hardie Grant Books.

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