Cappon Magro (lean capon) is said to have been created as a sort of homecoming feast for mariners after months away at sea. Made with alternating layers of fish and vegetables, the abundant nature of this genovese specialty means that it usually shows up as a scaled down version for antipasti, but with a little bit of work it can be something to wow seafood-loving guests at your next gala event. Think of at it as the italian answer to the french plateau de fruits de mer, but with a healthy dose of vegetables mixed in.
Figuring on leftovers, for 2 people I estimated vegetable amounts at 1/4-pound for each type and 2 pounds whole gilthead bream (use whatever whitefish or also salmon if preferred). Langoustines, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, olives, hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms in oil and artichokes are used to embellish the final dish. Traditionally, a cooked lobster is placed on top.
several slices of day-old bread or sea biscuits if you can get them
2 pounds whole gilthead bream or other whitefish, baked and flesh removed
1/4 pound green beans, 2-inch lengths
1/4 pound cauliflower, broken into florets and sliced (about 1/4 head)
1/4 pound beets, baked or boiled, peeled and cut into small dice
1/4 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced
1/4 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups salsa verde (try Saveur or Epicurious, but double up on the parsley in Saveur’s recipe)
1/4 pound shrimp tails
1 pound mixed clams and mussels
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
oil-preserved artichokes and mushrooms
lettuce to line serving platter
olive oil and white wine vinegar
I know that looks like an awfully long list but you can take shortcuts by using frozen or pre-cooked vegetables where possible, and baking/preparing the fish a day in advance.
• Cook beans, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots separately in lightly salted boiling water (use the same pot).
• Bake whole fish; remove all of the flesh, taking special care to leave out the bones.
• Steam clams and mussels in white wine (discard unopened specimens).
• Boil langoustines and shrimps until cooked.
Use your largest serving platter and place bread or sea biscuits in the center (if using the biscuits, soak them briefly in water to soften). Drizzle with olive oil and several splashes of vinegar (photos 1 and 2). Spread on some green sauce. Add the cooked beans and top with more green sauce before adding a layer of cooked fish.
Repeat the process of vegetable-green sauce-fish with the cauliflower, beets, and potatoes, leaving the carrot for last without any fish or green sauce. The order of the vegetables isn’t written in stone, but it is important to achieve contrast in layering the colors. Remaining sauce can be spread on the sides.
Almost there! Line platter with lettuce leaves and arrange shellfish, oysters, crustaceans, eggs, olives, oil-preserved vegetables and lots of lemon wedges. To serve the cappon magro, look at it as if it were a multi-layered cake and slice accordingly. It’ll end up resembling a colorful salad on steroids but I don’t believe that mattered much to those genovese sailors of long ago. Bibs optional.