Umbria is the only landlocked region on the peninsula of Italy. It’s safe to say that Umbrians are not famous for their fish.
As an American, I’m used to eating fish or any other food that traveled many miles. I’ve had Dungeness crab in Chicago, sushi in Idaho, and Rhoda Island oysters (in Seattle). A few extra miles don’t bother me, so I was curious to try the fish offerings in Perugia. Every day, we passed a beautiful fish market on the way to the fruit stand. Clearly, they were Umbrian and didn’t seem to have a problem with the seafood. So this spring, after nine months, I finally stopped by.
La Perla Nera is a family business. Signora Patrizia, Signor Franco and their son Michael are open four days a week. I loved them immediately. They were funny, confident and always generous. They prepared my order with great care, always gutting, skinning, filleting and slicing it to perfection before tossing in a handful of parsley. And they never let me leave without a detailed recipe. I decided right away that I would try every fish dish they could teach me. I started with spaghetti and clams. Then I made fried calamari, salmon rolls, fish coquettes, swordfish sandwiches, fried filets, marinated squid with olives, fish with cognac, and fish soup. I kept a list of the greats and politely forgot the not-so-greats. The more I tried, the more recipes Signora Patrizia gave me.
I’m getting close to unpacking the last of our belongings. The other day I found the stack of La Perla Nera recipes, and so tonight, with very, very, very fond memories of this awesome family and their fish market, I am going to make my favorite dish: fish balls (I promise, they taste way better than they sound.)
To make fish balls, you need an assortment of fish. I can’t find the Italian fish that La Perla Nera sells, so I’m using ling cod, Alaskan rock fish, and Petrale sole. Combined, the fish should total a pound. To prepare, lightly sauté them in oil and garlic. Gently break apart with a fork as they cook. Then add about 4 or 5 gulf prawns that have been whirled in a food processor. Add salt to taste. Remove the cooked fish and prawns from heat and allow it to cool. Then add a tablespoon or two of chopped parsley, an egg and bread crumbs until the mixture just starts to hold together. Mix with your hands and then form into rounds the size of golf balls. Fry the balls in oil and then add to a pot of marinara sauce. Cook for a few minutes. Serve as is or toss with spaghetti.