I come to you this evening with possibly the simplest fish recipe in the world. In fact, it’s barely a recipe – more a gentle reminder of something we all know: that lemon, parsley and fresh fish are three things that almost always come together to create something wonderful. And I’m talking about really fresh fish here. This branzino came from the Rialto Fish Market, bought and eaten on the same day.
Before I tell you about the bass, let me talk a little about the market. It was early December when I bought these two fish, and so cold that even the seafood seemed to chatter in their shells. Yet the market was bustling at 10am on a Tuesday, and the fruit and vegetable stands overflowing. The Italians, it seems, are experts at drawing out colour in the depths of winter; their stalls full of glossy persimmons, orange fleshed pumpkins, flaming bunches of peperoncini, and radicchio di Treviso, its ruby tipped tendrils flailing over the counters.
I stopped at my favourite vegetable stand and bought potatoes, zucchini and a handful of parsley. They asked me how I planned on cooking the potatoes, and the answer was the same as always: al forno. The type they give me has sunshine yellowed flesh and when roasted turns as soft and sweet as butter. We’re utterly addicted.
Then into La Loggia – the neo-Gothic structure that houses Venice’s 1000-year-old fish market. Flanked by seagulls, on a winter’s day the arched building smells of what Brodsky describes as the city’s signature scent: frozen seaweed. And plain old fish, of course.
In December, the tables are filled with some of the most beloved Venetian ingredients: clams, sardines (the star of sarde in saor), anchovies, and not forgetting il polpo. All ingredients that we’ve enjoyed by the bucketload at restaurants and cicchetterie this winter.
But I wasn’t looking for anything fiddly. On that December morning, I wanted the taste of summer – something like the bass we cooked in Kefalonia a few years, flesh sweet and tender and spiked with lemon. So I bought branzino (sea bass), stuffed it with thin lemon slices and plenty of parsley, drizzled over olive oil, and baked the fish at 200C for 15 minutes. I served it with potatoes roasted with white onion, and lightly steamed courgettes – something else that seems to taste so much better here.
And oh was it delicious. Full of bones, of course, so not for the fussy, but reminiscent of Greek evenings in midsummer. Although I will admit, midwinter nights in Venice aren’t too bad either.