SERVES 4 TO 6
Ralph Conte's Tuscan villa overlooking the ocean provides him with much inspiration. He is very serious about authentic cooking as is evidenced by his beautiful wood-burning outdoor oven and grill, where he bakes pizza and bread, and grills this succulent whole sea bass.
I am envious when he tells me that he gets in his boat and fishes the waters for his catch, so I know it just can't get any fresher than this. Sea bass has tough scales, so use a blunt knife or de-scaler to do the job and work from the tail towards the head. Sea bass is almost always sold whole, so if you are not going to catch it yourself, order it from the fishmonger.
5 whole rosemary sprigs, about 8 inches long
1/2 cup Filippo Berio extra-virgin olive oil
2 small red chili peppers, slit
1 small yellow chili pepper, slit
5 lemons, 2 cut into thin slices, 2 cut into wedges
Coarse sea salt
4 1/2 to 5 pounds whole, scaled, and gutted sea bass
2 onions, peeled and cut into rings
Remove a 1-inch length of rosemary needles from the base of the sprigs. Soak 4 of the sprigs in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes so they are pliable; these will be used to close the cavity of the fish.
Combine the olive oil, juice of one lemon, and the chili peppers in a small bowl. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt and set aside.
To really cook the fish without it sticking to the grill, preheat it for about 15 minutes. While the grill is heating up, make some 1/2-inch slits in the skin of the fish on both sides and insert the lemon slices.
Open the cavity of the fish and insert the onion rings, lemon wedges and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Use the soaked rosemary sprigs to close the cavity by threading them through the skin opening from one side to the other.
Use the remaining sprig as a brush to baste the fish as it cooks.
Brush the fish with a little of the olive oil mixture using the rosemary sprig; place the fish on the grill and baste occasionally. If your grill is at 600 F, the fish will cook in about 10 minutes. Turn it once half way through the cooking using a pair of wide flat metal spatulas.
Carefully remove the fish when done to a waiting platter; open the cavity, remove the rosemary sprigs, and onions. With a small knife, peel back the skin of the fish and discard it. Cut the fish into pieces and serve with additional lemon wedges.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA IN TUSCANY by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2003.
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