I stopped by the fishmonger this morning intending to buy some fresh flathead fillets for dinner and froze dead in my tracks. Flathead fillets were $52.99 a kilo! I was stunned. In my mind flathead, delicious as it is, certainly isn’t a delicacy and shouldn’t be commanding those sorts of prices.
Growing up in a Catholic household rain, hail or shine we always had fish on Friday. My primary school principal, Sister Teresita, even had me convinced at one stage that if I let meat pass my lips on a Friday I would burn in the eternal fires of hell. It was a mortal sin, no less. So, more often than not it was tuna fish sandwiches for lunch and flathead for dinner. I take it that my mother took advantage of this situation to up the ante on our fish intake. Even in later years when the Church relaxed the no meat on Friday rule, it was fish as usual at our house.
In those days flathead was cheap and plentiful. My mother would strip the sweet fillets in half, dust them in flour and shallow fry platefuls of fish which we would devour like hungry seagulls. At $52.99 a kilo there was no way I was going to replicate that memory, so I cast my eye over the alternatives. And then it dawned on me, it was cheaper to eat freshly picked crab than almost any other fish. You name it flathead, snapper, tuna, blue eye cod and even salmon were all considerably more expensive than crab. Go figure. Crazy but true! The only decision left to make was how was to prepare it.
We have a fabulous new local trattoria Popolo, down the road in McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay. I’ve been there twice in a month now and love it so much that I have convinced my book group its the go to venue for our annual Christmas get together. Popolo does fresh, delicious Southern Italian food and has a mean cocktail bar. Both visits I have been been blown away by their Home-Made Tagliatelle with Crab and Tomato. This was going to be my inspiration for dinner tonight.
Unfortunately, with no recipe to work with, and an unreliable memory (Popolo makes an awesome limoncello, gin and basil cocktail) I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had just bought the tagliatelle pasta and the crab, but was going to have to improvise with the contents of my fridge for the rest – long red chillies fresh young garlic, lemons and rocket. My version is not a patch on Popolo’s but its delicious and surprisingly quick to prepare.
Crab, Chilli, Garlic and Tomato Tagliatelle with Rocket and Lemon
1/2 cup olive oil plus 3 tablespoons
1 spanish onion, finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt
1 long red chilli, finely sliced
1/2 cup white wine
4 roma tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and diced
250g fresh, picked crab
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 large handfuls of wild rocket (arugula) chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
BRING a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the tagliatelle and cook it for about 5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and return to pan.
While the pasta is cooking:
POUR 1/2 cup of the oil into a heavy based saucepan. Add onions and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add garlic and chilli and continue to cook on low heat for a further 2 minutes.
DE-GLAZE the pan with the wine, then add the prepared tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes on a medium heat
REDUCE heat to low. Add the crab meat and remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Cook, stirring gently, until just warmed through. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
ADD the sauce to the tagliatelle with the lemon juice and rocket. Stir off the heat for 1-2 minutes.
SERVE immediately with a sprinkling of lemon zest.