One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish...and Beans?

Seafood with beans may sound odd to our ears - like shrimp with mashed potatoes or hamburgers with oatmeal, but there’s a diverse tradition of dishes which use the dissonance of surf and turf to enhance each other.  In Italy, there's baccala with chick peas; in Spain, white beans with clams; in Mexico, red snapper with black beans; and of course, the Italian tuna and bean salad is a classic.

This recipe, adapted from the Italian edition of La Cucina Italiana, is unique because it is extremely simple, easy to prepare, and quick. No tomatoes to sweeten, no spices to mask, just a friendly puddle of bean puree topped with pasta dressed with onion, parsley and fish - garnished with fillets.  While it may be a descendant of cucina povera,  it’s a delicious offspring.

Fusilli con triglie e salsa di cannellini

12 oz fusilli
12 fillets of triglie (red mullet) with skin
1 can of cannelli (white kidney) beans
A large spring onion, or 4 or 5 scallions
Olive Oil (EV)
Notes on the ingredients are below.

Cook the fusilli in a large pot of salted water until just al dente – they are cooked again in the recipe, so don’t worry if they’re a bit chewy.  Drain them, and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.  While they’re cooking, drain and rinse the cannellini, then use your food processor to puree them, adding a thin stream of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. It should be flavorful and rather loose, the consistency of a medium thick sauce.  Wash, dry, and finely chop a fistful of parsley.  Cut the spring onion into rings.

Pan 2,  Garnish fillets.
Heat a large skillet, put in a thin covering of olive oil, and add in the parsley and onion, adding a little white wine if you think it’s going too fast. Cut 8 of the fillets into long skinny strips and add to the skillet.  In the meantime, heat another small skillet, preferably nonstick, and cook the other 4 fillets whole over medium high heat for 2 minutes. 

For the final step, add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to the pan with the parsley, onion, & fish strips, get everything good and hot, and add in the pasta.  Stir well and heat through, tasting for doneness.

To assemble, divide the cannellini puree onto 4 warmed plates.  Put the fusilli mixture on top of the puree, and garnish each with one of the whole fish fillets from the second skillet.  Add a little black pepper and eccoci qua. Serves 4.

Notes on the Ingredients
If you’re making this in Italy, you’ll have no trouble finding these ingredients, but if you’re in America or Britain, you may need to substitute a different fish for the red mullet.  Snapper, sea bream, and ocean perch are all reasonable substitutes, and similar fish would be fine as well.  The object is to find a rather sweet fish with a solid consistency without a strong fishy taste. Mackerel or flounder would not be a good choice.  Since red mullet are generally sold as small fish, the fillets you substitute should also be from small fish, or cut in to pieces about 1½ inches wide, 3 inches long, and ½ to ¾ inch thick – note that in the recipe only the 4 fillets used for garnish need a definite shape, all the rest are reduced to strips anyway.  You’ll miss out on some of the rosy visual appeal, but it should work fine.  Since the beans are crucial, seek the best. In the US, we’d suggest buying Progresso, which the magazine Cooks Illustrated ranks the highest. 

More Info
Fine For information on preparing dried cannellini.

Watch & Listen Our favorite You Tube reading of  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is by the Walden Junior High drama class.

The Doctor Seuss book,  One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, is not commonly used to induce children to eat fish, but do whatever works. If you click through on the Amazon link below, all proceeds will be used to increase sales at our favorite Colli di Luni wineries. (On some browsers, you must use the generic Amazon link to the right.)

Written by Martha Bates