Italian summer cooking: tonnarelli with mullet and tomato sauce

First off: let me thank all who actually seemed to enjoy last week's post. It was very heartfelt, not sure that it had much to do with cooking, it was really about what my heart needed to say. I was touched to see that I can be appreciated for more than my stoveside manners... with beloved nieces and nephews

I have been here this week, ours is the house in the middle, which has been in my mother's family since the 50's.

Between siblings and cousins, spouses and offspring we have been averaging 15 to 20 around the table and it's been glorious. I revel in every moment of the banter, the differences, the laughter, the memories we share and we continue to make together.

Food is, of course, one of the ways we commune. Wednesday I gleefully found red mullet at the market, a treat not easy to happen in San Francisco. This is what happened next, to much family acclaim.


Tonnarelli al sugo rosso di triglia Tonnarelli with red mullet and tomato sauce

Tonnarelli is a pasta cut typical of Abruzzo. They are an egg based long kind of spaghetti cut through a chitarra, a tool with metal strings through which a thick sheet of egg dough is pushed to obtain rustic, toothsome spaghetti with a square or rectangular section. The ones I used were a dried kind from a small artisan pastificio. Good linguine or pici can be used in this recipe to good effect.

for 6 people

mullets getting ready for sauce

1 pound red mullet 2 garlic cloves 1 handful basil leaves salt to taste 1 cups very ripe cherry tomatoes EV olive oil 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate pepper to taste 1 pound tonnarelli (or other pasta of choice)

Scale and gut the mullet and cut off the fins. Separate the fillets from the heads and spines. Keep everything except the fins and guts. Sprinkle with salt.

Mince the garlic and basil into a paste with a generous pinch of salt. Quarter the tomatoes.

Gently heat the garlic and basil paste with the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the mullet fillets, heads and spines and sauté on high heat until they change color. Add the quartered tomatoes and let soften.

the mullet sugo

Stir in the tomato concentrate and add some warm water. Braise slowly, covered for about 35 to 40 minutes, adding a bit of water at a time if necessary.

The fish will become undone and shred into sauce. Pick out the heads and bones, making sure to pick off the tasty flesh and let it fall into the sauce. Adjust salt and pepper.

Cook the tonnarelli very al dente in a pot of salted boiling water. When quite al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes from done, transfer into the pan with the sauce using a hand held strainer. Finish cooking using the pasta water.

The starchy water will bind with the sauce around the pasta. When it is ready, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh basil. Serve immediately.

mullets meeting their blessed end