Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Spaghetti Marinara

How to make the ultimate seafood pasta, and impress everyone (even yourself).

Let’s get one thing straight.  This is an article and recipe about seafood - specifically how to make spaghetti marinara. Though my International readership (in the US) may be confused.

Spaghetti is an Italian word.  It means “Italian egg flour noodles”.  They're  adapted from Chinese noodles discovered on a cultural exchange program with China by Marco Polo in the Thirteenth Century (he introduced Asia to rice in return… not that either food took off!).

I think we can agree on that. (Actually we can't... see comments below from yourself some months later ~ Ed.)

But “marinara”?  Does it mean “of the sea”? I’d like to think so.  Technically, you’d use the term “frutti di mare” in Italian, meaning “fruits of the sea” (which sounds highly suss).  In the US, they think “marinara sauce” is a tomato based concoction, that you might have “with or without clams”. But here en Australie you can readily buy “marinara mix” at fish shops and the supermarket.

So first up, this is about how to make the greatest seafood pasta you can possibly make.

A good spaghetti marinara is my litmus test for any Italian restaurant, and the best I’ve had in Melbourne I see I failed to review in this blog (with apologies to Scugnizzo).   As the executive chef there imparted: “If you use fresh fish, you can’t go wrong”.

And I have a particular predilection for this dish.  As a child, I was blessed to have a mother interested in cooking and food generally.  We ate our way through several eras of cooking, such as:
  • the Sunbeam fry pan classics like “Mexican sausages” and “chow mein”
  • Sushi at the first Japanese restaurant in Camberwell around 1982 (next to the dry cleaners at the Rivoli… before Valley Girl had come out! )
  • the eighties “Simply Irresistible” nouvelle cuisine era, with avocado and mango salads, and smoked salmon dishes.

One of the favourite meals my mum used to cook in the late eighties was a fantastic steamed pasta in a bag, with seafood, that I still salivate over just thinking about it.

And the “baking bag” is half the trick.

I recently had a few days off to work on my new novel (coming out soon: ‘The Hidden’, a fantasy fiction novel about a girl from New York going to Iceland to look for the Hidden People… and being kidnapped by them!!  Watch this space…), and invested heavily at Ocean Made Seafood, Collingwood.

I asked them if they did a marinara mix, and they said “it’s better if you make your own, because at least you know what you’re getting.”  Quite right too.

Hence, on my writing sojourn, I made a series of “Kit’s Fish Dish Wish List” meals, one of which included my own spaghetti marinara, and pass on here the family recipe (with thanks to Mum!) for you to try at home.

To wit, the recipe:


You will need a mix of fresh fish.  For mine I used:

  • Fresh Mussels (seven or eight), bearded and scrubbed
  • A few cooked prawns
  • Half a fillet of salmon (flaked into large chunks)
  • Half a  fillet of barramundi (flaked into large chunks)
  • 4 whole baby calamari, cleaned and then cut into tubes.  Find out how to do that bit here.
You’ll also need:
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Onion
  • Tomato
  • Garlic
  • Broad leaf parsley
  • White wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon

Preheat oven, moderate (180 C, or 350 F)

Make a sauce.
  • Chop half an onion and cook over a gentle heat in a splash of olive oil and tablespoon of butter.
  • Add skinned, seeded, and chopped fresh tomato.* Cook till soft.
  • Add garlic; a few cloves, cook till fragrant.
  • Pour in a glass of white wine for a bit of juice.
  • Cook mussels in the sauce for a couple of minutes, covered, till they start to open.
  • Remove from heat and combine rest of raw/fresh fish and a tablespoon or so of chopped parsley, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice (why not? It couldn’t hurt…).
While you’re making/ nearly finishing the sauce:
  • Only Half-Cook the spaghetti; i.e. only cook it for a few minutes (3-4 minutes), so it is underdone.  It will get finished off in the oven.  Put pasta from water directly into sauce with tongs and mix.
  • Line a baking tray with plenty of foil (you can also use baking paper, but will need to secure the parcel with a skewer).  Pour sauce and fish mixed with pasta into the foil, and scrunch up the top so that it can bake as a parcel that traps in the steam. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for fifteen-twenty minutes.
Remove.  Bring to table in baking dish.  Open the pasta in front of your diners, so that when the parcel opens, the steam and smells waft out of the bag.  It’s a show stopper!

I rate this one of the top dishes in my repertoire, and commend it to you. Easy, tasty, and just a little bit of show biz.  Serve with a green salad and a glass of Margaret River chardonnay.

Buon appetito!

*  Skinning the tomato is important, as otherwise you’ll end up with little bits of skin like plastic wrapping in the dish, and it’s remarkably easy to do. Put a cross hatch on the base of the tomato with a bread knife, then drop it in hot (boiled) water for about a minute… not long enough to cook it.  Pull the tomato out and let it cool. The skin will go wrinkly and peel off easily from where you cut the cross on the bottom.


Kit Fennessy said...

p.s. A good marinara does not need parmesan cheese on it, but offer it as an option when serving for people who can't take the idea of pasta without cheese...

Kit Fennessy said...

Note: I recently saw a history of Italian cooking SBS (http://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2016/07/11/episode-guide-eating-history-italy), which refutes the Marco Polo v Chinese introduction of spaghetti to Italy. Instead, they contend that pasta has been around for ages, but back in the olden days, they used to put sugar in the pasta, and have it as a kind of dessert! Go figure...