We discovered a restaurant that served the swordfish involtini (rolled and stuffed) on a side street in Taormina,Sicily. This was in 1980, in the days before the internet top ten suggestions. We found the restaurant by chance, looking at the menu and asking our hotel for suggestions. I don’t remember what I ordered that night. My husband, however, ordered the swordfish involtini. As soon as he tasted it, he pronounced it “delicious.” And he offered me a taste. One forkful was enough to convince me I should try to make it once we returned home to Virginia.
I took a second taste, while we were there, but before I ate it, I spread the filling out on my plate, inspecting it—bread crumbs, pignoli nuts, raisins or possibly currants. I guessed that there was a bit of oregano, some parsley and maybe, maybe a hint of pecorino romano in the filling along with olive oil to give it moisture. Were the nuts roasted first? Hmm. I wrote down my notes and ideas in my trip notebook and when I got home, I began to experiment. The technique of rolling up the fish was not new to me—thin meat, thin fish, the basic involtini technique as already part of my cooking repertoire. I did have to experiment with tying the fish with thin string instead of using heavy string or wooden toothpicks. I tried cooking by sauté and quick heating in the oven.
It took a number of tries to get the filling right. Moreover, it is difficult to find swordfish cut as thin filet here in the States so I have often used other white fish in its place. I’ve tried tilapia, flounder and even halibut and sole. Sole worked the best (for me) as a substitute for the swordfish.
After trying regular and golden raisins and even currants, I settled on the golden raisin for this recipe. Although I’m sure the chef in Taormina grates day-old wonderful Italian bread for the crumbs for the filling, (carefully mixed with basil, mint, and parsley with maybe a hint of oregano) I use Progresso bread crumbs and add a bit of fresh parsley and basil (sometimes mint).
In 2007, thirty years after our first visit, we managed to find that little restaurant again. It had been expanded and now the man’s son ran it and supervised the kitchen. This time we both ordered Swordfish Involtini, found that it tasted the same as it did years ago and determined that my effort was indeed, very close to the original! So, when this dish was mentioned in The Safety Net, number 25 in the series, I immediately thought of our experiences in Taormina. I wonder if Camilleri ever ate at that restaurant whose name has escaped me, but whose food remains a cherished memory?
Involtini Pesce Spada from Taormina
1 ½ pounds of swordfish (or other) flat filets
1 ¾ cups Progresso Italian bread crumbs
¼ cup pignoli nuts, chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped Italian Parsley
2 T golden raisins
2 T pecorino romano cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon of olive oil for the stuffing
½ teaspoon each, marjoram, thyme,
(oregano, basil, and mint too if you want)
1 cut up lemon to serve with the fish
3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil for sautéing the fish
Mix stuffing ingredients
Spread out on fish pieces
Roll the fish pieces
Secure each roll with thin string
Sauté the fish in the olive oil
If it looks like the fish is not cooking in the center of the roll,
Add a bit of water, steam with lid on and then
Re-crisp for a minute in the oil with the lid off.
Are you interested in recreating recipes you tried in Sicily or elsewhere?
Here is the way I do it:
Seven Steps to Help Recreate a Recipe Souvenir
Photograph the dish at the restaurant
Taste it for its separate ingredients. If there is a filling, spread it out on the plate and study it.
Look up the flavors of the region
If you are unfamiliar with the type of cooking you are trying, purchase a cookbook from the area
Look up the recipe by the name used in the restaurant and other, close names, on the internet
Do not be afraid to substitute American ingredients that you like for something you tasted abroad that you know is hard to find here.