The Province of Trapani lies along the western coast of Sicily. It should come as no surprise that seafood is highly featured in the cuisine. The city of Marsala lies within the province and is justly famous for the recipes prepared with the world renowned fortified wine, a dry wine that has had brandy added. For more than a generation, supermarkets across the U.S. have labeled a cooking wine as ‘marsala’ even though it contains ingredients such as corn syrup! Those poor imitations are a world away from the authentic and original Sicilian wine. Cook with it, drink it – just make sure it is the genuine wine.
One of the many culinary specialties of Sicily, Marsala is a dessert wine (or aperitif) and has a pronounced sweetness that is distinguished by traces of dried fruit and nuts, hints of caramel and savory notes as well. Marsala wine comes from Sicily and is found in the wine aisle of your favorite wine shop. If it is in the supermarket next to marinades and condiments, you are in the wrong aisle!
With Lent only a few weeks away, we have included two fish recipes, one prepared in a salt crust and the second made using Marsala wine. Make sure to save these recipes for meatless Fridays.
Branzino Baked in Salt Crust
There is really nothing quite like fish that is baked in a salt crust. When done correctly, the tenderness and flavor of the fish is truly without comparison. The issue is that a lot of cooks do not want to ruin the fish by getting it wrong, so they never bother to take the first step. It is not at all difficult, so make sure to try this recipe at home during Lent. You will be amazed at the result! Try to get whole branzino, but striped or sea bass are also fantastic for this recipe.
3 egg whites
2 cups coarse sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley, divided
1/2 cup water
1 (2 1/2-pound) fresh whole white fish
2 tbsp julienned sun-dried tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped kalamata olives
2 tbsp chopped artichoke hearts
2 slices lemon, sliced in half, plus more for garnish
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
In order to ensure that your fish is perfectly seasoned without tasting too salty, only use coarse sea salt, never table salt.
If you have not purchased the fish already cleaned, slice and gut the fish. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, trimmed to extend 3-inches in diameter around the outside of the fish.
In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites, sea salt, flour, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and 1/2 cup of water. Mix with your hands until a thick paste forms.
Fill the cavity of the fish with the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts and lemon slices. Rub the exterior of the fish with the garlic, then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley and freshly ground black pepper.
Place the fish on the parchment lined baking sheet. Mound the salt paste evenly over the entire fish. Press the mixture firmly down to the baking sheet, being careful to seal any cracks.
Bake the fish until the crust is golden brown and very firm, about 18 to 20 minutes.
Slide the parchment and fish onto serving platter or cutting board and crack the crust with a handle of a large knife. Slide a spoon under the top fillet, over the spine and lift it to a serving platter. Turn the fish over and repeat. Garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately.
Marsala Red Snapper
This recipe also works well with scrod and salmon.
4 six oz red snapper fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup Marsala wine
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tbsp cold butter
4 fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
Season the red snapper fillets with salt and pepper. Place the flour on a plate. Dredge both sides of each fillet in the flour, shaking off the excess.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over a medium-high flame. Once hot, but not smoking, place each piece of fish into the pan. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes. Turn the fillets over and cook until almost done. Remove the fillets from the pan and set aside.
Remove the pan from the flame and carefully add the Marsala wine and use a wooden spatula to scraping the bits off the bottom. Reduce the flame to medium and return the pan to the stove. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and thyme and allow the liquid to reduce by one-half.
Return the fillets to the pan. Cook while basting the fish until the fillets are heated through. Serve with one thyme sprig per serving as garnish.
For the dough
1 lb flour
3.5 oz sugar
3 oz extra virgin olive oil
6 oz white wine
2 tbsp Marsala wine
1 pinch salt
For the ricotta filling
1 lb ricotta
10 oz sugar
2 oz dark chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon optional
confectionary sugar for dusting
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a hook attachment. With the mixer on low, slowly add enough water to obtain a smooth and pliable dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour.
Put all the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) for the filling into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Mix 2-3 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Add the chocolate chips and mix.
Roll the dough into a thin sheet, about 1/8 inch thick and cut out discs of approximately 4-1/2 inches in diameter.
Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of each disc and rub a little water around the edges with your fingers. Fold the disc in half and seal it well by crimping the edges using a pastry tool or a fork.
Fry the cassateddi in vegetable oil until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. When cooled, dust with confectionary sugar and serve.