Something Fishy About This Salad

SUNDAY GOURMET

December 13, 1992|By GAIL FORMAN

I met Melly and Franco Solari when they traveled to the United States recently for the Columbus quincentennial celebration. Owners of Ca Peo, a tiny restaurant in Liguria (Columbus' birthplace in Italy), they cooked a memorable meal in the kitchen of Washington's Galileo restaurant while my husband and I watched and host chef Roberto Donna translated.

The Ligurian heritage is Mediterranean, firmly focused on sea and garden -- anchovies, salt cod, octopus, chickpeas, fava beans, chestnuts, olives, artichokes. The incredible meal that the Solaris prepared symbolized their crusade to update and lighten the traditional dishes that rely on this bounty. It's a good thing, too, because with nine courses we never would have survived otherwise.

We began the customary way with stuffed vegetables: zucchini with mortadella, eggplant with prosciutto, and onion with sausage. Next came cappon magro, an extraordinary vegetable and fish salad piled into a dome shape. Seamen are said to have created the dish, and landlubbers to have made it a showpiece of Ligurian cuisine.

Next was a silky pepper flan with tomato coulis. It was followed by eggplant-goat cheese ravioli and chestnut-flour pasta squares with pesto sauce and broccoletti. (Pesto is called the "coat of arms of Ligurian cooking," with the accent on fresh basil and redolent of garlic.) A baked fillet of Italian striped bass with artichokes and olive oil came next. Tart lemon sorbet served as palate clearer.

For entrees we had rabbit with red wine and aromatic herbs sauce topped with black olives and pine nuts, then veal rolls stuffed with sweetbreads, mushrooms, garlic and marjoram. This luxurious dinner concluded with chestnut ice cream and

espresso.

I'm sure Columbus himself never enjoyed such a magnificent dinner.

CAPPON MAGRO

(Vegetable and Fish Tower)

This party-size salad can also be served to fewer people, by scaling down the variety of seafood and vegetables. Instead of layering ingredients into a dome, arrange them on individual dishes.

GREEN SAUCE:

1 bunch parsley

1/2 cup pine nuts

2 anchovies

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

6 black oil-cured olives, pitted

1/2 cup vinegar

1 cup olive oil

salt to taste

& 2 slices Italian bread

SALAD:

1 pound sea bass, catfish fillets or other white fish

1 pound frozen spiny lobster tails

1 1/2 pounds shrimp

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt to taste

1 pound potatoes

1 pound green beans

3 beets

3 carrots

1 celery stalk

6 gallettes (unsweetened dry biscuits), or toast made from Italian bread

2 cloves garlic, halved

1-2 tablespoons vinegar

10 artichoke hearts in oil, drained and halved

8 ounces mushrooms in oil, drained

5 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

20 fresh oysters, shucked

20 large green olives

1 ounce capers

To make sauce, combine parsley, pine nuts, 2 anchovies, egg yolks, black olives, vinegar, oil and salt in a blender and process until smooth. Add enough bread to thicken mixture slightly.

Cover fish with water, bring to a boil and cook 5-7 minutes. Remove and cut into pieces. Add lobster to water and boil 10-15 minutes. Remove shells and cut up meat. Add shrimp to water and cook 4-6 minutes. Peel. Combine seafood and toss with lemon juice, oil and salt.

Cook potatoes, green beans, beets, carrots and celery separately until tender. Slice and toss each with a little of the green sauce. Put carrots aside. Rub gallettes or toast with cut surface of garlic, sprinkle with vinegar to soften and place on a large platter.

Arrange cooked seafood, potatoes, green beans, beets, celery, artichoke hearts and mushrooms in neat alternate layers to make a dome shape, with sauce between each layer. Pour sauce over top and smooth with a spatula. Decorate outside of dome, starting at the bottom, with egg slices, oysters, green olives, capers and carrots. If desired, reserve some of the ingredients, thread them on toothpicks or wooden skewers and stick them into the top of the tower. Serves 10.

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