Zuppa di Pesciolini di Sco Glio

Soup of Little Rockfish

Preparation info

    • Difficulty

      Easy

Appears in

Honey from a Weed

By Patience Gray

Published 1986

  • About

If you have ever contemplated the bright eyes, the spines, the scales, the colours – rose-red, vermilion, bronze, black, viridian – of freshly caught little rockfish piled on a platter on a fishmonger’s stall and wondered what you’d do with them, this is what people in the Salento do:

Ingredients

  • 1 kg ( lb) rockfish
  • 3 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 handful of peeled and seeded plum tomatoes
  • 1 hot green pepper halved and seeded
  • olive oil
  • some green celery and parsley leaves
  • some fronds of fennel
  • some sprigs of basil
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 2 glasses of water
  • salt

    Method

    To deal with the rockfish, about 8-10 cm long, you need a pair of scissors. Each fish is carefully scaled and gutted, the spiky gills are snipped out, and the fierce little spines which are fins are removed with the scissors. This is rather fiddly. The fish are then washed.

    The garlic is browned in olive oil in a heavy pan, and then removed. The tomatoes are torn in pieces and dropped into the oil with the green pepper. While they cook, the leaves of celery, parsley, fennel, basil and the bayleaf are roughly torn (not chopped) and go into the pan, followed by the water and the salt. The pot is simmered for 10 minutes with the lid on, then left to cool. The little fishes are then put in, raising the heat to bring the liquor quickly to the boil, are boiled vigorously for 3 minutes, then simmered for a further 7 minutes, with the lid on.

    Served in a large dish in their strained liquor, aromatic and not much of it. You eat the delicious but bony fishes with your fingers and mop up the liquor with bread.

    Is this infanticide? Are these rosy scorpion fish of a dwarf kind like the brownish Scorpaena notata (see Mediterranean Seafood) which also appear on the fishmonger’s platter or, if left in the sea would they grow up?

    This question applies to the red gurnards, weevers, diminutive bream, star-gazers and rainbow wrasse, included in this soup, child-size. I can only say that the people of the Salento (like the Naxians) regard what is small as ‘theirs’, and indeed turn up their noses at larger fish.

    The prevailing custom for rockfish of more respectable dimensions is to cook them in the way described above but increasing the aromatics and the amount of liquor. The ensuing broth is used to flavour the tomato sauce for ribbon pasta.

    In my view this is sacrificing the essential (quintessential) taste of this broth to the concept of substance. The Sculptor is not of this opinion. Those who hold, as he does, the opposite view should turn to Alan Davidson’s above-mentioned book for a number of refined pasta dishes based on fish, molluscs and crustaceans.