Brown crusty fillets of fish permeated with herbs and garlic make for some of the best eating on Romagna's coast. This is home cooking and the food of unpretentious restaurants along the Adriatic. Often those restaurants are no more than colorful shacks set up on the beach. But the fish will always be fresh, and always cooked over wood fires. Their smokey aromas, mingled with the salt tang of the sea, are the best perfumes of summer. With or without a beach, this makes memorable picnic food cooked on the spot. But do be sure that the fish is ice cold during transport. Rub fish with flavorings shortly before leaving the house, seal in heavy plastic bags, and bury in lots of ice in a well-insulated cooler.
Any firm fleshed fish works in this recipe, from Spanish Mackerel to Blue Fish, members of the bass family, Trigger Fish,Sea Trout, Tile Fish, Swordfish, Tuna, and a score of others. The most important ingredient in the fish you choose is freshness.
  • 1 pound firm-fleshed fish fillets about 3/4 to 1 inch thick
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil or fresh marjoram
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 to 6 lemon wedges
Working Ahead: For the best flavor, season the fish and refrigerate it 2 to 6 hours before cooking. Best to eat it hot, but leftover fillets make fine cold antipasto. Cut them into chunks and dress lightly with a little olive oil and fresh lemon. Serve on a pile of tossed greens.
Seasoning the Fish: The secret of those deep flavors is this aromatic rub of herbs. Cut about 4 diagonal slashes into the fillets, cutting about 1/8 inch down and about 1 inch wide. Make a paste of the garlic, parsley, herbs, and olive oil and rub it over both sides of fillets. Place them on a platter, lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 to 6 hours.
Grilling Over Charcoal: Use real wood charcoal if possible. Burn until coals are covered with grey ash. Brush the grill with olive or vegetable oil to keep the fillets from sticking. If possible have the grill about 6 inches from the coals. Add the fish with its seasoning rub. Cook fast about 2 to 4 minutes per side,browning on both sides. Check to be sure fish is firm when pressed and opaque to center, but not yet flaky and dry. Serve hot.
On Stove Top Grill: Heat a heavy grill over high heat. Brush with a little olive oil and lay out fillets with their seasoning rub. Turn heat to medium and cook 3 to 4 minutes on one side; 2 to 3 minutes on the second side. Check for doneness as described above.
In Sauté Pan: Film the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil. Heat over high, taking care not to let the oil smoke. Add fish with its seasoning rub and turn heat to medium. Cook 3 to 4 minutes on one side, turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes on the second side. Serve hot.

Wine Suggestions: For delicately flavored fish, drink a fresh, crisp white like a Sauvignon from the hills of Bologna, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Bianco from Friuli, or the elegant Cortese di Gavi of Piemonte. For fish with bigger flavor like tuna and blue fish, have full bodied whites like Sicily's white Corvo Marca Verde Prima Goccia. Tuscany's Montecarlo, or a Vernaccia di San Gimignano.