‘Twite Shad’…there, I’ve said it! A few years ago I went for a weekend to Lake Como (and yes, I did see George Clooney!) where I found a restaurant offering “missoltino con crostone di polenta fritta e alborelle” or as the English translation read….”salty twite shad with polenta and bleaks”. Fabulous!…particularly as I could not make sense of either version!
Sadly the restaurant was shut otherwise I’d have eaten this dish just to discover exactly what it was! Instead I’ve been hoping to casually drop it into a conversation to see if anyone could enlighten me ….and now, some years later I thought I’d bring up the subject again (so far I’ve had no luck finding out what ‘bleaks’ are but I’d welcome any comments on this!)
Meanwhile, what exactly are ‘twite shad’ ? Well it seems that I ate some the other day as ‘pasta con sardine’ in this lovely lakeside bar/restaurant because the fish generically called ‘sardina’ in the lakes area of North Italy are strictly speaking freshwater – ‘twite shad’.
When twite shad are salted and dried around Lake Iseo, Lake Garda or Lake Maggiore they are called ‘sarda’, whilst in Lake Como the sun & wind-dried version are called ‘missoltini’. So at least I’ve discovered something! The usual way of serving these lake ‘sardines’ are pan-frying or grilling and serving with polenta or as part of a pasta sauce with fresh herbs.
Monte Isola, the small island in Lake Iseo, is renowned for their salt-preserved sardines – an art which has been around for at least a thousand years. The fishermen still go out every sunset to set their nets, returning at dawn to collect their catch. The fresh fish are then salted for 48 hours before being left to dry for about a month.
After the drying they are arranged in containers, covered in olive oil and left for at least four months. It was hard work (and I imagine still is) with little remuneration and done by all the family – on the whole the men were in charge of the fishing and drying and the women tending the nets…..and of course the preparation and cooking!
Using the same idea of salting then covering in oil, I decided to salt-bake some sardines and then serve them warm as a salad with some of the wonderful Lake Garda olive oil. If like me you’re not a great one for cooking fish – then this might appeal to you because it really is quick and easy….and with minimal smell!
SALT-BAKED SARDINES & HERBED POTATO CHIPS
I serve this as a warm salad starter or, with more sardines, as a main summer dish. The sardines are served slightly warm and the chips hot.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
4 sardines (or 2 per person)
1 kg coarse sea salt
1 egg white
Ground black pepper
Preheat oven: 200C/400F
You could ask your fishmonger to gut the sardines for you but sometimes, because they’re small and it’s simple to do, they prefer that you to do it yourself.
In which case, wash the sardines and remove the scales by taking a sharp knife and rubbing it down the outside of the fish from tail to head.
Then open up the belly by running the point of your knife from the tail to the base of the head. Remove the guts – they pretty much fall out themselves – and rinse the inside.
Believe me, if I can do this then anyone can!
Pour the salt into a bowl and mix in the egg white until it all starts to slightly stick together.
Take a baking dish and press half the mixture on the bottom. Lay the fish on top of the salt and dot with some parsley sprigs.
Pour over the remaining salt mixture pressing it down well over the sardines, making sure it’s completely sealed – it will look like a white dome.
Place the dish in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
Clean off the salt and carefully lift out the fish. Rinse off all salt residue under running water gently rubbing with your fingers to remove as much of the skin as possible.
Massage lightly with olive oil and lay on a plate in a warm place.
HERBED POTATO CHIPS
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes
Preheat oven to 200C/400F
1-2 potatoes, depending on how many slices you want
Fresh parsley and basil leaves (or any herb of your choice)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely slice the potatoes or, even better, use a mandolin.
Lay slices on a non-stick baking dish, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and place one sprig of parsley or basil onto each slice. Cover with another slice of potato and brush again with olive oil.
Place dish in oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and crispy at the edges. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Serve sardines with fresh parsley surrounded with herbed potato chips. Grind over some freshly ground black pepper and an extra drizzle of olive oil.