In Sicily the fish par excellence is the (Spada) Swordfish, which for the men of the strait is known only as U Pisce. Like tuna from Favignana, swordfish is the emblem of Scilla and Ganzirri on the Sicilian side of the Strait of Messina.
The strait … also written about by Homer in the Odyssey that tells the danger of those beautiful waters. Scylla and Charybdis. The Strait has its own unique charm due to the danger of strong currents, the extreme beauty of the Calabrese and Sicilian sides and the many legends that surround it.
The strait is a physical place but it is also a philosophical place, a cultural separation that has allowed the confluence of so many different experiences that have shaped a myth.
Swordfish has been hunted in this strip of sea for centuries following an ancient, almost mystical, old technique, where religion and fishing come together. The first stories date back to the Greek writer Polybius, and this is not surprising because we are in the ancient Magna Graecia.
But the iconic image of fishing for swordfish is that of the felucca, a particular vessel of Arab origin that arrived around 400, characterized by a small tower and a long gangway in the bow where the harpoon rests.
Today this tradition is relegated to a sort of fishing tourism, commoditised, but once this fishing followed almost religious rituals. There was a hierarchy among the 5 crew members and the fight with the swordfish had to respect the courage and strength of this great fish.
Hearing the stories of the old fishermen or reading their stories, it almost seems to be immersed in some passages of Moby Dick, the symbolic book of America that tells the story of the great white whale.
The fisherman had to follow the harpooned fish until it was exhausted and surrendered to the man. At this point, as soon as it was hoisted aboard the felucca, the fisherman made a cross near the gill as a sign of respect.
But perhaps one of the symbols of this fishing is admirably told by Domenico Modugno in his song “U pisci spada” that tells the story of two swordfishes. In fact all the fishermen know that often when they take one of the members of a couple, the other fish does not abandon the companion and follows him until he is captured with him.
This is a story of love and death that makes me cry every time I listen to it again.
Recipe for Eggplant stuffed with Swordfish
Scrape out the aubergines and put them in the oven, covered with olive oil, for 10 minutes.
Cut the swordfish fillet and some tomato into cubes. In a pan put some sliced Tropea onion and a clove of garlic: sauté for a couple of minutes on high heat and add the fish and tomato.
Fill the eggplant with this and cover it with grated salted ricotta. The ricotta should not melt and will make a golden crust. Bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees.
In this season the oven is a test of courage, I know. But it’s worth it.
The wine? A Grillo from Trapani, just to stay in Sicily and enjoy its flavors to the full.
This is a contemporary vine whose place and date of birth we know. In fact it is the result of a cross between Catarratto and Zibibbo made in Favara by the Baron Antonino Mendola and written about in a document dated 1874.
Thanks to the baron and thanks to Sicily for all its fruits that we never tire of tasting.