By Request: Ahi salad born of a Roman holiday
We had wandered into a restaurant in Rome because it met our basic needs: looked friendly, had space, prices reasonable. The first category on the menu (surprise!) was “poké.”
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I just got back from a vacation in Italy, where I wallowed in pizza and pasta — and dabbled in poke. The first two acts were intentional, the second an accident.
We had wandered into a restaurant called Lab 30 Controcorrente in Rome, chosen because it met our basic needs: looked friendly, had space, prices reasonable. (We’d been finding it nearly impossible to have a bad meal in this city, so our standards were pretty simple.)
The first category on the menu (surprise!) was “poké”: tonno, salmone or gambero (tuna, salmon or crayfish). We weren’t going to order any of it, figuring, how good could it be when they use an accent mark? But we wanted a salad and our server said for that we’d need to order the poke.
This did not quite compute in our Hawaii brains, but when in Rome …
We opted for the tuna, and it turned out to be the dish of the night, although it wasn’t really poke. But it was delicious, so they can call it whatever they want.
The dish leaned more toward a ceviche in texture, with the flesh “cooked” a bit in lime juice. I couldn’t quite place the flavor beyond that. It was served on a bed of avogado, zucchine and rucola (avocado, zucchini and arugula), with a sprinkling of riso soffiato (puffed rice).
When I told the (very patient) server we were from Hawaii and started asking a bunch of questions about poke in this part of the world, he said it was trendy in Rome these days, then went to fetch the chef. Alessio Pittacci, who trained in South America (thus, possibly, the ceviche connection) makes tuna poke flavored with passion fruit, fish sauce and lime juice.
Sounds refreshing, right? And Hawaii-like.
I came home with a mission to make a fish salad with those flavors, although I’m not calling it poke. I am calling it bright, tasty and different.
About the critical passion fruit ingredient: To make this recipe doable at any time of year I used canned lilikoi juice. Fresh fruit is not quite in season, and frozen puree is expensive. In Italy, il frutto della passione is grown in the southern regions and is found in all kinds of foods from gelato to pastries to chocolates. I saw a purple variety in many markets.
I also substituted arare (mochi crunch) for the puffed rice, just for kicks. If you have some puffed-rice cereal on hand, though, you could try that instead.
AHI SALAD WITH LILIKOI DRESSING
By Betty Shimabukuro
- 1/2 pound raw ahi (tuna), cubed
- 1 small avocado, peeled, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 cup diced zucchini (about 1 cup)
- 6 cups arugula
- Mini yakko (tiny arare, or Japanese rice crackers), for garnish
- >> Dressing:
- 3/4 cup canned lilikoi (passion fruit) juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Whisk together dressing ingredients. Pour over fish; let sit 10 minutes.
Add avocado and zucchini to fish and toss lightly. Serve over arugula, sprinkled with mini yakko. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving (assumes half of the dressing is consumed): 160 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 16 g protein.
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