Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy. It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine. And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market. At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.
This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food. However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients.
And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second. The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned. Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. That’s it. But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand.
We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine? In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso. Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti. However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one. Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices. The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish.
It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved. The only modifications I would offer are:
1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven. The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did). We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper. Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat. Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat. This will keep them from getting soft.
3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni.
4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves. Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes. The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed.
5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates. The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.