For me, there aren't many flavors I like more than sweet and sour. The sweet and sour I'm talking about is Italian agrodolce. The literal translation from Italian is sour sweet. Those are the two necessary components to the sauce. The sour is usually white wine vinegar, and the sweet is usually sugar. Caponata, a Sicilian dish, is probably the most popular one using this sauce, but the sauce also matches marvelously with fish and meat. It could be that I had an overdose of sweets for Valentine's Day and needed a little sour in my food. Like a child counts the hours until Santa's arrival, I'm also counting the days to my upcoming trip to Venice. With visions of gondole floating on canals, Carnevale costumes & masks, and seafood dishes dancing in my head, I was impatient to have a taste of Venice.
Saor is Venetian dialect for sapore (flavor). The saor, a combination of sweet onions and vinegar, is the marinade for the fish. Venetians have been marinating food with onions as far back as the 14th century. The sauce helped to preserve the fish for long voyages at sea and also helped to ward off scurvy during those same voyages. There were no long journeys at sea or fear of scurvy for me, yet I've still managed to eat my share of saor during my past visits to Venice.
Although it's served year round, this dish, either with Sarde (large sardines) or Sfogi (sole) is part of the traditional feast of the Redentore festival in Venice, held the third Saturday every July. At dusk on the night of the celebration, little boats festooned in brightly colored decorations, lanterns and baloons float out into Saint Mark's Bay and Giudecca to enjoy the fireworks display. They moor alongside each other, and, before the fireworks start, enjoy a feast of Venetian specialties, including a saor dish, be it sarde or sfogi.
My nearing trip to Venice is for another celebration (Carnevale), but that didn't stop my craving for this classic Venetian dish. You can bet I'll be sampling as much sarde & sfogi in saor that I can find. In the meantime, I thought I'd share this recipe with you.
It's important to let the fish marinate in the saor for a minimum of 10 hours, but 2 days is better. Because we only have sardines (little sarde) here in California, and they're not always easy to find, I made the dish with sole instead.
Sfogi in Saor - Sole in Agrodolce Sauce
(adapted from the Sarde in Saor recipe in Venice Tradition and Food by Pino Agostini & Alvise Zorzi)
Serves 6 for a main course and 8 for an antipasti
2 pounds sole, filleted
About 1 cup all-purpose flour
About 1/2 cup olive oil, for frying, divided in half
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
2 medium sweet white onions, thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup sultanas, soaked in white wine
1/3 cup pine nuts
Lightly dredge the fillets in the flour. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan, and saute the fillets over medium heat until both sides are golden, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat onto a paper towel to drain & sprinkle both sides with salt.
In another saute pan, heat more olive oil. Saute the onions on medium low heat until soft, about 10 minutes. The onions should not change color. Add the vinegar, sultanas, and pine nuts and cook until the vinegar has been absorbed by the onions, about 5 minutes. Let both the sole and the saor cool.
When they both have cooled, place a layer of the sole in a glass dish. Add a layer of the saor on top of the sole. Add another layer of sole on top of the saor. Continue layering the sole then saor until all the sole and saor have been used. (You should end with a layer of saor). Refrigerate for two days. Serve at room temperature. Buon Appetito!
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesdays, other food-loving travelers who blog.