We decided that this week would be a theme week and not geographical one, and we selected fish. Coincidentally, we are in the middle of Lent, and our christian friends should at least refrain from eating meat until March 30.
Actually, I’m talking about real Christians, the observant ones who prefer to go to church rather than sleep in on Sunday mornings! Since I decided to go for a special Lent recipe, why not choose a recipe downright from Vatican to honor Pope Benedict XVI who recently resigned while waiting for the appointment of his successor.
Since all roads lead to Rome anyway, I allowed myself to choose an Italian fish recipe to represent this tiny country. Involtini are traditionally thin slices of beef (or other meats such as pork or veal) wrapped around a filling of cheese and breadcrumbs, pan-fried in olive oil. There are several versions of fillings as well as meats used to make these rolls. Involtini is the generic term used in Italy, but this dish is also called braciole (plural braciola) in southern Italy and also in the United States.
The version I chose to prepare to honor the Vatican is a tuna-based version from Messina, Sicily.
I had prepared this recipe once ten years while my wife and I lived in Chicago. When I thought of a pontifical fish recipe, I immediately thought of involtini.
Involtini are traditionally thin but wide slices of meat or fish stuffed and rolled. This time, I wanted to try bite-sized inch-wide strips. I think the result is visually attractive but making them this way will not allow you to put a lot of stuffing in your involtini. The recipe and quantities I am writing about below you is for the traditional involtini that are more like cigars.
I will long remember these involtini. I prepared them for the my daughter Ava’s fifth birthday this week. On the menu, tomato and mozzarella salad with homemade pesto sauce. I served the involtini with spaghetti and marinara sauce for the kids and pesto sauce for the parents. And for dessert, I made a Royal Chocolate (Trianon) for the first time which took me a good part of the afternoon to prepare but was really worth the effort.
The involtini di tonno, as the Mafia calls them in Sicily, delighted the whole family, and that’s a good thing, as I still have a ton of stuffing in the freezer and I’ll probably use the recipe again with other fish!
- 1½ lb tuna
- 10 green olives , chopped
- 3 shallots , minced
- 3 cloves garlic , pressed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 oz. pine nuts , toasted
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons grated parmesan
- 1½ cup bread crumbs
- ¼ cup dried currants
- ½ cup dry white wine (e.g. Prosecco)
- 5 tomatoes , diced
- Place the tuna in the freezer for about a half hour to facilitate slicing.
- For the filling, mix 2 cloves of garlic, 2 shallots, 1 tablespoon of parsley, oregano and basil, pine nuts, olives, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, dried currants, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with pepper.
- Carefully cut the tuna into ¼ inch thick slices.
- Take some of the stuffing and compress in hand. Place the stuffing on the side of each tuna slice.
- Gently roll and secure with a toothpick.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet.
- Season the tuna rolls with salt and pepper and transfer gently into the pan.
- Sauté for a few minutes until they are slightly brown.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and add the remaining shallots and garlic. After 1 minute, add the wine, tomatoes, remaining lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and toothpicks, and add the remaining herbs to the pan.