“Soup and Fish explain half the emotions of life” – Sydney Smith

Back in the early eighties, before Tuscany was trampled underfoot by New Labour voters looking to buy a seconda casa, my family and a group of friends, took a large run-down villa in the hills near Lucca. One of the party was singer/songwriter Philip Rambow whose band, The Winkies, had achieved more than a modicum of success on the pub circuit in the late ‘70’s. But it was Philip’s immediate past that stalked our various Tuscan outings as, having recently co-written the song ‘There’s a Guy Works down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis’, recorded by Kirsty MacColl, he found himself a minor celebrity. What quickly became clear to us all was that the song had entered the Italian charts only a short while earlier. The rest of us became secretly enamoured with the glow of vicarious fame whenever we entered a local taverna or pizzeria that had a functioning juke box.

I reiterate this tale, not because I hang out with rock stars during my summer break – Philip is the only star that I’ve ever hung with in any season – but because at one delightful outdoor, shanty-town, fish restaurant, the waiters insisted on singing the very same song – on something emulating a loop tape. A key to the exuberant response to Philip’s attendance was that the same dish they were serving at every table – there were no a la carte menus – featured fish and chips…sort of.

Beguiled by our first encounter with Latin irony, we stared down at our communal platter of sea bream and potatoes. Our formerly chirruping waiter proceeded to dispense huge chunks of white fish followed by perfectly roasted potatoes and their accompanying juices.

We were informed that this was a local Tuscan dish, served every Friday evening in this particular restaurant, which accounted for the packed house we sat amongst. Naked roast fish with crisp potatoes on the surface and creamy ones beneath, one barely needed the recipe, but it was in Rachel Roddy’s most recent publication, Two Kitchens. Family recipes from Sicily and Rome (2017) did I come across the following;

Pesce al forno con le patate

1 large bream, about 800g
1kg potatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon slices and flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 200C/180Cfan
Peel the potatoes and slice thinly
Rub a roasting tin with olive oil
Put the potatoes in and zig-zag with more oil
Season with salt and toss everything well
Rub the fish with salt, filling its belly with lemon slices and parsley
Bake for 30 minutes
Waiting for 5 minutes before you eat to let the juices settle, is a good idea

Wine thoughts

I have no recollection of the wine we drank that night, save only that it arrived in decanters on an alarmingly regular basis, but here at home I opted for a Gavi; Broglia Gavi di Gavi La Meirana 2017. A white wine of distinction, built from Cortese grapes, lightly scented, dry with a finish of crisp acidity, supported both the fish and the creamy new potatoes. Having become increasingly fashionable in the last few years, Gavi has suffered somewhat at the hands of marketing men, so caution is advised. I have always been happy with the wines from Piero Broglia’s winery in Piedmont.