Il Boccone: a Sicilian almadraba just a stone’s throw from Atocha

- Chefs

A logbook by Sensei Hiroshi Umi.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, is a land of fire and wind, affable folk, trembling earth, a fitful volcano, and tuna. Plenty of bluefin tuna. Since time immemorial, tuna-fishing nets (tonnaras) have been set the length of its coastline the same form way as in Cadiz, the fishermen seasoned with salt and stories, to deliver a product with a wonderful and traditional culinary destination. It is also a land of emigrants, with many having left these magical, luminous shores to make a living in other climes. As in the case of the chef Giuseppe Casisi, who brought his esteemed tuna recipes and hearty pasta dishes to the south of the Spanish capital.

Chef Giuseppe Casisi, de restaurante Il Boccone

Bluefin tuna: il porco del mare

Amid the urban and business development of the Méndez Álvaro district (just a stone’s throw from Atocha railway station), Casisi opened the restaurant Il Boccone, a pulsating fragment of his beloved Sicily in the form of honest, sincere and truly tasty recipes. With bluefin tuna the glistening star of his new home. He greets us cradling one in his arms like a baby, a smile on his face and a touch of nostalgia for his homeland, tempered by how well things are going for him here in Madrid, with a loyal and growing clientèle. “For me, tuna is king, il porco del mare. We have a strong historical connection with Spain, because of the Mediterranean and tuna fishing, and in fact Sicily belonged to the Bourbon kingdom, which is why, the same as here, we like our food to be colourful and flavourful,” says Casisi, while posing with an impressive loin of Fuentes Bluefin Tuna, of which he gets through some 30 kilos per week.

Born in a small village by the name of Butera (Gela), a fishing district facing the coastline of Malta and Tunisia, Casisi experienced tuna culture on the largest island in the Mare Nostrum. “The Favignana tuna fishery (one of the Mediterranean’s largest, measuring 32,000 square metres) is historic, one of the tiny Aegadian Islands. Others would include Scopello, in Trapani province, Agrigento, in Siracusa, the fish processing plants of Capo Passero and Avola, Marzamemi, Vendicari… So many, although some have now been abandoned,” explains the chef, who studied at the Turin Catering School and was a noted triathlete.

Caponata, tartare and busiate with bluefin tuna

With such a background, and family recollections of brine and semolina, Casisi serves up frank, sincere, truly tasty and artfully combined dishes. His caponata with bluefin tuna wedges is a delight, the chef bringing together the very finest pisto and ratatouille. “You could say that this caponata dish of diced aubergine is as sacred as the tuna itself, or even more so. We make ours with celery, onion, fresh tomatoes, capers, green olives, but then finish it off with a sweet and sour touch of vinegar and sugar, the way my mother did. The aubergine (melanzane) is left submerged for a whole day to concentrate and absorb all the flavours. We serve it with wedges of tuna, marinated with just a little soy, and then cooked tataki style, grilled for just a few moments,” our Sicilian host explains.  

Plato elaborado por el Chef Giuseppe Casisi, de restaurante Il Boccone

For his magnificent tartare he uses lemon rind, mint, blueberries, spring onions, soy and his own EVOO “which I have sent over from Sicily. It’s from a small-scale operation run by my family, dating back to my great-grandmother. Because back home we dress our tuna simply with oil or a squeeze of lemon, and so it’s a kind of tribute, it reminds me of the tuna I ate when I was growing up,” he recalls, adding that in place of “wasabi, I use Tabasco”.

Plato elaborado por el Chef Giuseppe Casisi, de restaurante Il Boccone
Plato elaborado por el Chef Giuseppe Casisi, de restaurante Il Boccone

For a deep and highly succulent main dish, “fresh and aromatic”, the busiate, from the Trapani region, al tonno rosso. It’s a corkscrew-shaped pasta, served with cherry tomatoes, mint, aubergine and well marbled chutoro, a light and highly appealing recipe. “I have ideas for other dishes, such as an authentic carbonara with tuna belly, so to speak, smoked, cured for 24 months. That takes the place of the guanciale (pig cheek) with tuna. It’s something else. Wherever you go in Sicily, you’ll see the way they smoke it. You’ll pay 120 euros per kilo for a piece. Another dish would be fresh tagliatelle with lemon, burrata and chutoro on top, which gives that little bit of fat,” suggests the chef.

Plato elaborado por el Chef Giuseppe Casisi, de restaurante Il Boccone

By way of liquid pairing, he offers some outstanding wines from his homeland (made with grillo, insolia and malvasia grapes), and a number from the Etna DOP, to show that in the south of Madrid there pulsates the colourful and volcanic cuisine of a big kid who still enjoys his tonno rosso.