“She tied you to a kitchen chair...” (Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah, Various Positions, 1984).
1998: a man, a woman. My NY kitchen is too tiny for chairs, still the notes billow true. Swordfish flesh, his hands between me and the stove. Tomatoes and basil bruised by olive oil, my clean hair caressing his nostrils.
2013: he's still tied to my kitchen chair and the swordfish remains my husband’s favorite dish.
May you all enjoy it as much.
Pescespada alla livornese per due - Livorno style swordfish for two
3/4 lbs swordfish steak salt and pepper 1 garlic clove 1/2 bunch basil 1 small can Italian peeled tomatoes (preferably SanMarzano) 2 tablespoons pitted black olives (kalamata or nicoise both work) 1 tablespoon capers packed in salt 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Remove the skin from the swordfish and cut in 1” cubes. Season it well with salt and pepper and set aside.
Smash the garlic clove using the blade of your knife. Pick the basil leaves, wash and dry them in a salad spinner. Stack and roll them starting on the longer side, then slice them in thin ribbons. This technique will keep the basil from bruising and turning bitter.
Empty the tomatoes in a bowl and crush them with your hands. Soak the olives in cold water to rinse off the brine and the capers in hot water to remove the salt.
Halve the olives. Chop the capers roughly.
In a shallow wide pot, over lively heat, pour half the olive with the garlic clove and a few basil ribbons. When the garlic becomes slightly tanned, remove it.
Add the seasoned swordfish and sear it very quickly on all sides, being mindful not to cook it all the way through, so that it will remain tender in the finished dish.
Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Leave the cooking liquid in the skillet on the stove.
Pour the rest of the olive oil in the same skillet with half the remaining basil and heat it for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15-20 minutes.
Add the olives and capers and let cook for an additional 5-10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper.
Put the fish back int the pot and turn off the heat. Cover to finish cooking in the hot sauce. When ready to serve, sprinkle with the remaining basil and bring to the table.
This dish is delicious warm or room temperature. If you have leftovers, crumble the fish with a fork and use it as a pasta sauce.
NOTE: The cooking time will depend on how acid or sweet the tomatoes are. Contrary to widespread belief, the best way to counteract tomato acidity is salt, NOT sugar.