recipe by Russel Norman
photography by Jenny Zarins
Russell Norman is definitely in love with Venetian Restaurants and their delicious dishes. Completely inspired by the city built on water and by every single alley, he decided to open his first Polpo in London, on Beak Street, in September 2009. Polpo is a so-called bàcaro, a Venetian word to describe a backstreet bar or a humble restaurant serving simple food and good, young local wines. Today in the British Capital there are other two Polpo, one in Covent Garden and the other in Smithfield. And not only this: Mr Norman shared his knowledge about chichèti with his customers in a remarkable cookbook, Polpo– A Venetian Cookbook (of sort) [buy it here or in the restaurants]. Here is one of the 140 recipes from the restaurant, probably one of the most famous in the Italian tradition.
“The flavours in this simple dish, more than any other, define the taste of Venice for me. There is something very typical about the battle between sour and sweet, what Italians call ‘agrodolce’. There are many different fish you can use to make this dish – including sprats or mackerel – but the most common are sardines, the smaller the better. Their oiliness, tangy flavour and generous flesh work so well when mixed with the sweet onions. This is such a good dish to make in a large batch and to keep in the fridge for up to a week. It is only ever eaten cold or, for best results, at room temperature”.
500g small sardines
Seasoned Italian 00 flour
Extra virgin olive oil
100 g pine nuts
4 large onions, finely sliced
400 ml white wine vinegar
100 g raisins, soaked overnight
Flaky sea salt
2 French sticks (or other bread)
Preparation Clean and gut the sardines. Take the heads and tails off. Given them a final rinse under running water and pat dry with kitchen towel. Coat in seasoned flour and shallow fry in olive oil until golden on both sides and then set aside. Preheat the oven to 150° C/Gas 2. Place the pine nuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned , shaking them about a couple of times. Set aside. In a heavy-based pan sweat the sliced onion in olive oil on a medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until soft, sweet and translucent. Pour enough white wine vinegar over the onions to fully submerge. Make sure it’s very wet – the fish will soak up a lot of the liquid. Drain the raisins and add along with the toasted pine nuts. Lay some onion mix on the bottom of a large container and some sardines on the top of this. Sprinkle small pinches of salt as you layer, but not too much – the vinegar adds quite a bit of sharpness. Alternate layers of onion and fish until all the sardines are used, cover and chill. This dish is better after a few days in liquid. After a day or two, take as much of the mixture out of the fridge as you are going to use and leave for 30 minutes to bring up to room temperature. Cut your stick, or other bread, on an angle and toast lightly. Dollop a generous amount onto each piece.