Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spaghetti with Fish Sauce

Last October my family and I met up in Chicago for a long weekend. We saw a show, took some tours and, of course, ate ourselves siiiiilly. We even had a few serendipitous moments, like when we found ourselves standing in front of Rick Bayless' restaurant Xoco

We had just eaten a few Chicago-style hot dogs but knew enough to find room for some of the best churros and Mexican hot chocolate on the planet.

In addition to its vibrant restaurant scene, Chicago is well known for its many ethnic and cultural neighborhoods. In fact, it boasts the third largest Italian population in the country. It also happens to be the first U.S. city to inherit giardiniera, a pickled vegetable concoction that made its way from Italy in the 1920's. Used as a condiment atop Italian beef sandwiches, it also finds its way onto antipasto platters and pasta dishes.

I've always loved pickled, briny things (just ask Tristan - he always kept a big jar of pickles in the fridge for me when we first started dating), so naturally I went gah-gah when I heard about a pasta and fish dish packed with green olives, capers AND gardiniera. It happened one day when I was channel flipping and landed on "My Family Recipe Rocks." Joey Fatone (remember him from N'Sync?) was in Chicago learning how to make the Cannistra family's beloved "Spaghetti with the Fish," where pasta gets topped with an olive oil-based sauce that's loaded with chopped garlic, fresh parsley and lots of salty flavor bombs. The final step involves the addition of white fish, which falls apart and melts right into the sauce as it simmers.

I adjusted the recipe substantially for bolder flavors and, well, more sauce. What can I say but YUM-o. The juicy broth is light and fresh, and if you happen to have any left over, it tastes even better the next day.

Spaghetti with Fish Sauce

Adapted and tweaked from My Family Recipe Rocks on the Live Well Network. 

Serves 4-6.

1/2 cup olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
10 large green olives with pimentos, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
Hot water
3/4 cup hot giardiniera*
1 lb white fish fillets (cod, halibut, haddock, etc.)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, plus more for garnishing
1 lb vermicelli pasta
Asiago or Romano cheese for grating

In a 1 1/2 - 2 quart pot, heat the olive oil, garlic, green olives and capers over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Add enough hot water to fill the pot 3/4 full. Add the hot giardiniera* and some salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the fish fillets and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. The fish will slowly flake into the sauce. Right before finishing, stir in the fresh parsley and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.

To serve, top each plate of pasta with a ladle of fish sauce. Garnish with grated cheese and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

*My neighborhood grocery store only had regular giardiniera so I added some Mama Lil's Peppers for heat (you could also use hot sauce or red pepper flakes). If you don't want the heat, just use regular giardiniera.