Swordfish Sardinian-Style with Mint and Saffron

Pesce Spada Come Lo Fa la Rita

Not least among the pleasures of the south shore of Long Island is the native swordfish. The fine, pale pink, creamy flesh cannot be surpassed by that of any other example of the species. When we took a small summer place in Watermill, I hastened to duplicate the pasta with swordfish I’d had in Sardinia at Rita D’Enza’s restaurant Gallura in Olbia.

When I first served it, we found ourselves scraping the bowl not for more pasta, but for the sauce. And so we agreed, Victor and I: Next time we make it let us, for once, forget the pasta and just have the sauce. And that is how Rita’s swordfish pasta became Rita’s swordfish, period.


  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • About 35 small fresh mint leaves, torn into bits
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • A large pinch of saffron
  • 1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes or peeled, fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped up
  • Salt
  • Chopped fresh or dried red chili pepper, to taste
  • pounds fresh swordfish steaks, about 1 inch thick


  1. Choose a sauté pan or skillet that can later contain all the fish without overlapping, put in the olive oil and garlic, and turn on the heat to medium. Cook the garlic, stirring once or twice, until it becomes colored a very pale gold.
  2. Add the mint, stir quickly three or four times, then add the white wine and the saffron. When the wine has simmered a minute or so and the scent of alcohol has subsided, add the chopped tomato, salt, and chili pepper. Cook at a lively simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, as described in the Note, about 15 or 20 minutes.
  3. Strip away the skin that circles the fish steaks and, if they are very large, cut them into pieces no longer than 4 inches. Put the fish in the pan, sprinkling it with salt and turning it over a couple of times in the sauce. Cook, at lively heat, for 3 minutes on one side and 2 to 3 minutes on the other. Transfer the entire contents of the pan to a warm serving platter and bring to the table at once.