Mackerel or "sgombro" is not the most popular fish in some homes because its high oil content can make it almost too fragrant and fishy-smelling when not absolutely fresh. Just out of the sea, though, it is delicious, so be sure to visit your local fishmonger before summer's end, when mackerel are still hanging around the coast. If your local market is out of mackerel, fish like herring and tuna are nice substitutions.
My best advice for grilling fish? Don't fuss with it. Give it five to six minutes (skin-side down) of one-on-one time with smoky heat (without touching or flipping) so that the skin can char to crisp perfection, and in the meantime prepare your vegetables.
I opt for Asian eggplant in this dish because it has fewer seeds, meaning more creamy substance to eat. I also like to toss the eggplant in marinade so the meaty flesh can break down and match the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the mackerel.
Although most Italians prefer their fish unadorned, my herby salsa verde might be an exception for even the Italian purists. Featuring parsley, lemon and capers, this "green sauce" is light and bright enough to make the mackerel and eggplant shine.
GRILLED MACKEREL AND EGGPLANT WITH SALSA VERDE (Sgombro con Melanzane)
SERVES: 4 ample servings
For the mackerel and eggplant:
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 4 eggplants, long, thin, preferably Asian, cut lengthwise in half
- 4 mackerel fillets (about 2 pounds total), any bones removed
For the salsa verde:
- 1 1/2 cups Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
- 2 salt-packed anchovies, filleted and rinsed
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, finely chopped
- Grated zest and juice 1 lemon
- Salt, if necessary
Preheat the grill.
Place the eggplant in a large bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the vinegar, red pepper flakes and oregano, and toss to coat. Place the eggplant cut side down on the grill (reserve the marinade) and cook, turning once, until dark golden brown and lightly charred, about 6 minutes per side. Return to the marinade, turning to coat.
Brush the mackerel skin with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and place skin side down onto the grill. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until the skin is nicely charred, then turn carefully and cook for 1 minute longer. Arrange in the center of a round platter.
To make the salsa, combine the parsley, mint, anchovies and olive oil in a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl, add the chopped egg, capers, lemon zest and lemon juice; mix well. Season to taste with salt if necessary.
Arrange the eggplant around the mackerel, drizzle the dish with the salsa, and serve.