These length-challenged swordfish are costardelle, saury in English. I’ll be honest – I had to look the word up in a dictionary to get the translation, not that it left me any the wiser. This was not something I ever came across as a kid down at the local chippy. Not even the name rang any bells, apart from sounding like the bad guy in The Lord of the Rings. They’re very popular around the Straits of Messina, though, where the waters are full of them, but apparently not much eaten anywhere else. As you can see, they’re oily fish, what the Italians call pesce azzurro. Consequently, they taste somewhat like sardines, and if (when, more likely) you fail to find them, sardines will in fact make a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Costardelle are usually coated in flour then deep-fried whole, to be eaten with mild red onions sliced into slivers and swimming in red wine vinegar. They’re delicious that way too, but only if you don’t plan on kissing anybody, or indeed even standing anywhere near anybody in the immediate future.
Which brings us to the more socially acceptable involtini. In this part of the world, they love involtini, little rolled up parcels of meat, fish or vegetables, grilled on skewers. Particular favourites are beef, veal or swordfish, but costardelle is one of the rarer incarnations. The sort of dish you could casually serve up to know-it-all foodie friends, recounting how you got the recipe off a Sicilian fisherman. The stuffing is the source of much heated debate. I’ve provided a pretty stripped-down version here, but currants (especially in Palermo), garlic and capers may also find their way into the mix.
- 12 costardelle, butterflied and bones removed (thank you, kind Mr Fishmonger)
- Juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
For the stuffing:
- 5 heaped tablespoons of breadcrumbs (preferably from some rustic loaf, not sliced white!)
- good pinch of oregano
- good pinch of seat salt and freshly ground black pepper
- zest and juice of one lemon (unwaxed, naturalmente)
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 15 g pinoli, lightly toasted
- 30 g Sicilian pepato or pecorino cheese, grated
- small bunch of parsley, chopped
1. Place the fish in a shallow dish to marinate in the orange and lemon juice for a couple of hours, then take out and pat dry.
2. Mix all the stuffing ingredients together, coat the flesh side of the fish, roll up and slide onto skewers.