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Nonna Giusy’s Fish with Couscous

From the book Jamie’s Italy by
Serves 4

Introduction

When I was on the island of Marettimo, I found out that it’s famous for its African-influenced couscous dishes. I walked around the town one day asking the locals who made the best couscous and, of course, every answer was “Mia mamma!” That is, until one lad took me along to meet his grandmother — Norma Giusy.

She was the most incredible woman, who made her own couscous by hand using coarse semolina flour and rubbing it in a bowl with a bit of water until it stuck together in little chunky bits. It was so delicious, and incredibly easy to make, but I think the type of flour she was using will be hard to find outside Italy, so I would suggest using quality bought couscous instead.

This is how the women on the island prepare whatever fish their husbands catch at sea each day. When they see the boats coming in, they put the couscous on to steam and get ready to start poaching the fish. It’s a really interesting method and damn tasty. I was at Norma Giusy’s house for three hours learning how to make it, so thanks, Norma! (And she makes a mean limoncello, too.)

Ingredients

Couscous

1 small onion, peeled
½ bulb garlic, peeled
~ Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
14 oz. couscous

Fish

~ Olive oil
1 large white onion, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
½ dried red chile, crumbled
2 red mullet or bream (11 to 14 ounces each), gutted and scaled
2 jars (16 ounces each) stewed tomatoes
~ Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
~ Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Steps

  1. Put the onion, garlic, and parsley into a food processor and whiz up until fine. Mix with the couscous, then put into a steamer or use a colander over a pan of boiling water and let it steam very slowly for half an hour. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, put a pan on low heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Add the sliced onion and garlic and the chile and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Add the fish to the pan, then pour in the stewed tomatoes and the same amount of water so that the fish is covered. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully transfer the fish to a plate, then pour half the sauce into the bowl of couscous and mix together.
  3. At this point Norma Giusy placed a couple of towels over the bowl so the couscous remained warm while it absorbed the sauce. You can do this, or cover the bowl with aluminum foil and place it in a very low oven (160 degrees) for 30 minutes. Flake the meat from the fish and put into a second serving bowl. Be careful to remove all the bones. Pour the rest of the poaching sauce over the top, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with the bowl of couscous in the middle of the table for people to help themselves.

Notes

Editor’s notes: If you don’t have a good setup for steaming couscous (such as a couscoussière), you can make an all-in-one version by pulverizing the onion, garlic, parsley, and 2 cups water in a blender, then pouring the liquid over 1 1/2 cups couscous in a saucepan. Cook on low for about 20 minutes (depending on the size of the couscous pearls) until the couscous has absorbed all the water. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Vary the flavors in the fish-poaching stew by adding fennel seeds, Aleppo pepper, chopped kale, and the like. Canned whole tomatoes work perfectly well as a substitute for the stewed tomatoes. And a few fillets of firm-fleshed fish, such as halibut or black cod, will do just fine in the place of the bream or mullet.

This content is from the book Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver.

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