Lessons Learned from a Chef, and a Friend.
One minute he’s consummate chef; the next minute a clown. One minute the old man by the sea; the next my familiar friend.
My friendship with Luciano has been luminary. He sits deeply in himself. To be with him is like sitting with a master. His intuition and sensibility bring squid out of the water as soon as he sets his line in. I once asked him where that sensitivity came from. He told me he used to go fishing with his uncle for octopus. Elba is surrounded by rocky shores, lo scoglie. This uncle of his never spoke. He only motioned Luciano which way to row by the movement of his head, as he held a mirror over the side of the boat, hoping to catch the movement or reflection of the octopus. Through these silent times on the water, he learned about a quiet place in himself.
Luciano was born on the island of Elba, which is part of the Tuscan archipelago. There are seven islands here, of which Elba is the largest, made famous by Napoleon’s exile. Only an hour ferry ride from the west coast of mainland Tuscany, one can feel far away in no time.
Whether sitting on his small wooden fishing boat at sunset or in his charming restaurant in Capoliveri feasting on “pasta del Il Chiasso,” sipping cool white wine—more than likely cracking crab, sucking the meat out in between laughs—I have never failed to be in a good mood at his place. The food is always good, honest, and the atmosphere joyful. And there is Luciano, so welcoming, funny, attentive and of course, the tables are properly “set.”
A vicarious video visit to Luciano at his restaurant in Elba:
Recipe for Pesce al Forno
Whole Fish, Baked in the Oven
Here is one of the oldest and easiest recipes from the island of Elba, sure to bring people together.
1 whole fish, (or filet) red snapper, sea bass, etc.
2 to 3 potatoes, sliced thin
1 fresh fennel bulb, sliced in wedges
1 lemon, sliced in rounds
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1 handful of flat-leafed Italian parsley, chopped coursely
a few glasses of white wine
salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare the fish by cleaning well. Lightly salt the inside and the outside.
Stuff the cavity with herbs and a few of the lemon slices. Gently tie around the middle of the fish widely a few times with twine, make a knot. Use a baking dish or casserole, lightly oil it. Make a bed of thinly sliced potatoes the size of the fish. Set the fish on top. Add whole garlic and siiced fennel to the pan. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over
everything. Bake at 350 degrees. A two and half pound whole fish needs at least 40 minutes. (A filet needs half that, and you must cover the dish with aluminum foil.)
Once the fish starts smelling good, add a glass or so of white wine. Let it evaporate.
Keep in the oven until it has browned slightly. Touch to see if the flesh feels spongy or resistant. It should be firm, but not overcooked. Use the broth created from the fish and vegetables for a sauce. Can be reduced a bit to thicken. Take the meat away from the bones. Serve roughly a half a pound per person and arrange baked vegetables on the side. Add a little sauce if necessary.
Use leftover lemons delicately to squeeze over the fish.
ps. be sure the table is set!