Stemperata is a Sicilian sweet and sour sauce of capers, olives and vinegar. It is one of those sauces that only reveals its true nature when eaten at room temperature, the flavours having room to express themselves without the distraction of heat. And what flavours! The briny olives, sharp capers, sour vinegar and sweet raisins rolling together, accentuating and contrasting with each other.
This is a recipe I found in Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’. I love Diana Henry’s books; they’re full of exciting flavour combinations and her books are so beautifully and evocatively written they are a joy in themselves.
RECIPE serves 4
For the tuna:
1 tuna loin steak per person
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
4 celery sticks, plus the leaves, finely chopped
1/2 large, or 1 small, red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
150g pitted green olives, some whole, some halved, some chopped
175g capers, rinsed of their brine
75g raisins, plumped up in a little hot water and drained
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
freshly ground black pepper
First make the sauce: saute the celery and onion in the oil until soft and just beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic, olives, capers and raisins and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the vinegar, oregano and some ground pepper and cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Set aside and leave to cool to room temperature until you are ready to eat.
When you are ready to eat, rub olive oil, salt and pepper on each side of the tuna and heat a ridged griddle pan until very hot.
Cook the tuna, allowing 1 minute for each centimetre of thickness of the fish; so a 2cm thick tuna steak will have 2 minutes per side. This should give you a seared exterior and an interior like a rare steak, pink and meltingly soft – perfect. In the final seconds of cooking, add a slosh of balsamic to the pan and ensure it travels under the ridges of the pan to give a lovely glaze to the fish. Turn the fish over again briefly and add a little more balsamic if necessary.
Serve immediately alongside the stemperata sauce, with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil anointing the tuna. This goes brilliantly with some steamed new or baby potatoes, lightly crushed and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.