I don't think it will surprise too many of my customers, especially the local ones who see me at the market, that I get the inspiration for a lot of dishes from seeing and feeling ingredients. Just last week, I was at the market when I spied some gorgeous tomatoes and very unique luffa squashes. I took them back to the restaurant with the vague idea that roasting tomatoes and luffa would be an interesting dish.
Only one slight problem, I'd never worked with luffa (Luffa acutangula) before. Grown them to maturity and made sponges from them, yes; eaten the immature ones, never. But, it's another squash, albeit a firm one, and so I didn't think I could go too far wrong by treating as any other firm squash. These luffa were sold to me by their Mandarin name, si gua. This photo is from another batch and these luffa are a little worse for wear, still I wanted you to see the product that I am blessed to work with.
Then later that afternoon, my fish delivery came in with some very pristine Atlantic Spanish mackerel, which happen to be migrating off the coast of Virginia right now. Mackerel is known as a dark, gamy, oily fish and undeservedly so. If you've ever eaten saba (pickled mackerel) at the sushi bar, you know that it is white-fleshed and although it has a strong fish flavor, it is delicious when extremely fresh. Mackerel do have a high oil content which makes them a delight to cook, for it is hard to dry them out. But the high oil content means that they go rancid quickly. Only buy from a trusted source. This little guy (2.5 pounds, 1.1 kg) was fat and pristine and yielded four nice filets. I don't skin mackerel; it has no scales and it is impossible to remove the skin anyway.
While I was breaking down the mackerel, the whole dish came to me. Why not roast the tomatoes and luffa and season them assertively arrabbiata-style, then roast the mackerel to order on top of the arrabbiata sauce? If mackerel can stand up well to pickling, certainly it will stand up to an assertive tomato sauce.
Roasted Spanish Mackerel with Luffa Arrabbiata
This feeds four people quite well with a green salad and a glass of red wine. You can substitute other squash for the luffa. If you use a soft squash such as zucchini, reduce the cook time to about 15 minutes. You can substitute any of the mackerels or bluefish in this recipe.
2 small luffa
4 large tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 mackerel filets
Preheat the oven to very hot, 450F. Slice the luffa into coins about 1/4" (1cm) thick. Peel, seed, and roughly chop the tomatoes. Mince the garlic. Remove the backbone from the anchovy and chop it finely. In a roasting pan, mix the squash, tomatoes, garlic, anchovy, red and black pepper, salt, and olive oil. Roast the vegetables until the squash is tender, stirring every now and again. It took me about 40 minutes. Rub the mackerel with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place skin side down on top of the vegetables and return to the oven until the mackerel is just barely cooked, about 6 minutes.
For presentation, we put the sauce down in the well of a soup plate with the fish over. Then we spooned a tomato vinaigrette around the plate and a little on the fish and topped the fish with a small mound of local baby arugula dressed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.