Sunday’s World Cup Dinner, where I pick one of the day’s matches and cook a meal from the country of the victorious team, was the result of a controversial game whose rhythm and joy was replaced by constant foul calls and the red carding of 4 players, two from each side. If you’re not hip to the soccer lingo, a player gets a red card after already receiving one warning, or yellow card, for fouling other players. The red card sends you off the field immediately, leaving your team short one man for the rest of the match AND prohibits you from playing in your team’s next match in the tournament—serious stuff. When referees constantly stop the game to call fouls that may or may not have been flagrant and start sending half the players off the field, things get a little heated. As it turned out, Portugal got one goal around the twentieth minute of play, and that was the only score we would see.
Now, enough of this technical sports blather. You are probably here for the food, and I have a great one for you tonight. If you’ve been following my World Cup Dinners, you may recall that I picked a previous game where Portugal won, and the resulting meal was both lovely and delicious (at least in our opinion). I knew that by picking Sunday’s Portugal-Netherlands match, I ran the risk of repeating a country. Since neither team was a clear favorite, I figured the game could go either way, and I certainly would not mind going back to Savoring Spain & Portugal for recipe ideas.
Mike and I decided on swordfish baked in tomato sauce with anchovies, only we were quite nervous about whether our local market would have any nice swordfish on hand at 5:30pm on a Sunday. We decided halibut or snapper would be an acceptable substitute, even tilapia, but cod or mahi mahi would not do. Much to our pleasure, we did find two perfect wild swordfish fillets. This fish has a dense, meaty texture and higher fat content than a light, flaky fish like cod. You generally will find swordfish steaks, as opposed to fillets. If swordfish is overcooked, it develops a dry, chewy texture. With the method in this recipe, however, it is nearly impossible to overcook the fish. This technique could be done with any combination of fish and flavorful cooking liquids. We kept it in the oven a bit longer than the recipe suggested, and it was wonderfully moist due to the briny, anchovy-spiked tomato sauce. Anchovies are one of those magic ingredients that impart a flavor far more complex and wonderful than its humble appearance suggests. When you add one or two chopped anchovies to a pasta sauce, whether tomato or olive oil-based, the little fillets completely dissolve leaving behind a unique briny flavor. I used one more anchovy than the recipe called for because I wanted a very full-flavored sauce. Generally speaking, I would use one anchovy per person in a recipe.
With no side dishes recommended in our cookbook, Mike suggested polenta which may not be a staple in Portugal, but was ideal for soaking up all the tasty juices. Polenta is Italian cornmeal. Any finely ground cornmeal can be used to make polenta, but I like the imported instant variety that cooks in one minute. It can be prepared after you have finished cooking the rest of the meal, so you don’t have to watch too many dishes at once. I use chicken broth for the cooking liquid and sometimes add a little milk at the end. You can also stir in butter or any kind of cheese. Because the cornmeal soaks up the liquid so quickly, be sure to stir constantly over very low heat and add a little extra liquid if it gets too thick too fast.
Portuguese Swordfish with Tomatoes and Anchovies (Espadarte a Lisboeta)
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Spain & Portugal by Joyce Goldstein
2 tsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
2 to 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
¼ c. dry white wine (optional)
10-15 good quality black olives (I used oil-cured), pitted and chopped
¼ c. flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
2 to 4 six oz. swordfish steaks (if you just want to make this for 2, you’ll have extra sauce, but that is certainly not a problem)
lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add the anchovies, tomatoes, tomato paste, white wine, olives and parsley. Season with pepper (you shouldn’t need more salt, as the anchovies and olives will take care of that). Simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring often so the sauce thickens a bit. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Sprinkle salt and pepper into the dish, place the fish in the dish in a single layer and season the top of the fish with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over and around the swordfish and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the fish is opaque throughout. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges and serve with polenta.
Stirring the instant polenta.
Our next World Cup dinner is going to be the Spain vs. France match on Tuesday, 6/27. I have already started looking up recipes for both. Two fabulous culinary traditions…I cannot choose a favorite.