When one hears “comfort food,” I’d bet most people wouldn’t think immediately of fish. But when I read Ina Garten’s recipe for pan-seared salmon in her latest cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, the photograph illustrating this “pretty-in-pink” dish prompted me to make it.
After a rather heavy rib dinner on Friday night, we both thought dining “light” was a must for Saturday’s supper. For us, lighter fare typically means fish, and one of the lightest I know how to prepare is sole. So after a day of watching classic films on TCM, I headed off to the fish market, where I found some sparkling white, wild lemon sole.
Although I am trying to expand my limited seafood repertoire, sole for me usually equates with sole oreganata, one of the mainstays of Friday night meals and Lenten suppers from my Italian-American boyhood. Boyhood dining memories also include my father’s taking us to one of the most famous Italian-American restaurants in New York City, Patsy’s. In fact, my dad was the attorney to Patsy Scognamillo, the restaurant’s founder. This is one of the reasons I was gifted not long ago with a copy of Patsy’s Cookbook: Classic Italian Recipes from a New York City Landmark Restaurant written by the founder’s grandson, Sal.
As I thought, the book had, along with many celebrity tales, an appealing recipe for fillet of sole arreganata and I opted to pretty much follow that for cooking the fish. However, out of deference to my Sicilian mother and Neapolitan aunt, I chose to make their breadcrumb topping.
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tbs Italian parsley, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
In a bowl, stir all the dry ingredients and then add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork until the breadcrumbs are moistened. You may use a little more or less olive oil depending on the breadcrumbs. The mixture should have just enough oil to clump together lightly when pinched with your fingers and to allow the breadcrumbs to brown and not burn when under the broiler.
1 1/2 pounds lemon sole (2 large fillets)
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Bread crumb topping
Lemon wedges for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the fish fillets in a baking dish large enough to hold the fish in a single layer and dot with the butter.
3. Combine the lemon juice and wine in a small bowl and spoon over the fish. The juice should be just enough to come up to the sides of the fish but not cover it. Season with the paprika.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork.
5. Remove the fish and set the oven to broil.
6. Sprinkle the topping on the fillets and broil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Serve with white rice sauced with the juices from the fish and with lemon wedges as garnish. Serves 2 as a main course.
Wine Pairing: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Sauvignon Blanc
When I saw this recipe in last month’s Bon Appetit magazine, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I’d make it. What most attracted me to it were the golden raisins and pine nuts, ingredients that, when paired with swordfish, whispered my mother’s native Sicily.
Finding a great piece of swordfish and some beautiful hot-house cherry tomatoes at the market yesterday reminded me of the recipe and so here it is. I followed all of the instructions but toasted the pine nuts ahead of time. I also decided to add some of the raisins and pine nuts to the sauce rather than sprinkling all of them on at the end. My only cautionary note would be to hold off on adding the 1/2 cup of pasta water at the end. Wait until you’ve almost finished tossing the pasta with the sauce. A tablespoon or two might be enough.
Pasta with Swordfish and Cherry Tomato Sauce from Bon Appetit August 2015
Ingredients (Serves 4)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 for the sauce; 1 for the swordfish)
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
4 garlic cloves, sliced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound 1-inch-thick swordfish steaks
2 tablespoons pine nuts
12 ounces casarecce or other short pasta (I used strozzapreti)
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
2 tablespoons golden raisins
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook anchovies, garlic, and red
pepper flakes, stirring occasionally, until anchovies disintegrate, about 3 minutes.
Add half of tomatoes; season with salt and pepper.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 12–15 minutes. Add remaining tomatoes; remove from heat.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Season fish
with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown and just cooked through, about 4
minutes per side. Let cool slightly. Coarsely flake flesh; discard skin. (You may also want to remove the dark blood lines.)
Toast nuts in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing often, until golden
brown, about 4 minutes. Let cool.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Add pasta and ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to tomato sauce and cook over low heat,
tossing often and adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce is thickened
and coats pasta. Add fish to pasta along with half of parsley and toss once to
Serve pasta topped with raisins, pine nuts, and remaining parsley.
Here’s a link to the recipe on Bon Appetit.
Wine Pairing: Grillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes
My New Year’s resolution is to cook more fish. And when my local supermarket had a $6 off sale on fresh cod, it made keeping that resolution a lot easier. I originally intended to bake the fish with a bread-crumb topping, but not finding any breadcrumbs in the pantry changed that plan and made me turn to a recipe from Mark Bittman’s Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking: Cod in Green Sauce.
The recipe calls for cod steaks, but as my fillets were cut on the thick side, I thought it would work. And although I only had half the fish called for, I thought it best not to halve the other ingredients as the sauce is actually a poaching medium.
I highly recommend this simplest of recipes. It calls for just a few ingredients, but yields a delicate and tasty cod. I highly recommend using your best olive oil for this dish as it is the source for most of its flavor.
Cod in Green Sauce Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Fish
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 thick cod fillets, about 1/2 pound each
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup roughly chopped Italian parsley
Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper.
Over low heat, heat the olive oil and garlic in a 10- to 12-inch non-stick skillet. When the garlic floats to the top and begins to take on just a slight color, slide the fish into the oil using a spatula. Move the fish from time to time.
After about 5 minutes, turn the fish and add the parsley to the pan. Baste the fillets with the oil and parsley. Continue to cook the fish for 5 to 7 minutes more or until done to your liking.
Serve immediately with just a pinch of fleur du sel.
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc
I know that this is my second posting on grilled tuna in one month’s time. However, the other night I decided to abandon the soy-based marinade from Mark Bittman, which I’ve used for years, for one made with Marsala. While the former marinade yields a meaty-tasting tuna steak, the latter wine-based one is happy to play a supporting role and allow the lush flavor of the tuna to take precedence.
I used equal amounts of extra-virgin olive oil and dry Marsala to make the marinade and allowed the fish to marinate for about 30 minutes before putting it on a hot grill pan. I cooked the 3/4-pound yellowfin-tuna steaks, a little more than an inch thick, grill on the first side for 5 minutes seasoning them lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. I then turned them and allowed them to cook for about another two minutes, leaving a pink, almost sushi-style middle. While cooking, I basted the steaks with the marinade.
I enjoying experimenting with my favorite recipes; sometimes, I fail and other times, I succeed. This time, I undoubtedly succeeded.
I served the fish with fresh spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic and accompanied by a spectacular 2013 Domaine de Robert Morgon. This young fruit-forward cru Beaujolais was the perfect pairing for the rich tuna.
Wine Pairing: Morgon, Pinot Noir, Cotes du Rhone
When it comes to pure flavor, I’d have to say that tuna, raw or cooked, is my favorite fish. As a true beef lover, I find tuna the perfect substitute when trying to eat healthy. Because I truly enjoy the flavor of this fish, I like to prepare it with a minimum of ingredients and cook it as simply as possible.
My go-to recipe for this “king of the sea” is “Basic Grilled Tuna” in Mark Bittman’s Fish: Fish: Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking.
The recipe calls for marinating a thick tuna steak (1.5 to 2 pounds) in a high-quality soy sauce and olive oil marinade for an hour or less and then grilling it on a hot grill or under a broiler, and basting occasionally with the marinade. After five minutes, the steak is turned and you start checking for doneness by cutting into the steak with a thin-bladed knife.
He warns that tuna should not be cooked to the well-done stage as it will continue to cook after its removed from the heat.
The first time I prepared this recipe, I overcooked my tuna. Now I turn my fish after about 3 minutes on a hot grill pan and then cook it for about 2 minutes on the other side. Rather than using a knife, I keep my eye on the sides of the steak and remove them before the rare middle is cooked. You can see the band of “rare” tuna in the photo above.
Although Bittman provides a recipe for an optional ginger-soy dipping sauce, I prefer to serve the tuna plain with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a lemon wedge.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc
Our dinner last night was based on a recipe from The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz. He’s an authority on the cooking of this region and writes with an informed passion for it that makes one, or at least me, want to rush to the market, get the ingredients for a particular recipe, and come home and cook.
The recipe that caught my eye yesterday was for Salt Seared Swordfish with Garlic and Mint. A minimum of ingredients are combined to create an unctuous raw sauce of olive oil, garlic, and dried mint, which is used to dress swordfish steaks that are quickly seared over a layer of coarse sea salt in a blazing hot skillet.
This is not a recipe for those averse to indulging in garlic or salt but, although used liberally, their flavors along with those of fine extra-virgin olive oil and dried mint seem to heighten the already rich taste of the swordfish.
Make this dish on a weekday night, and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to a seaside trattoria in Sicily.
Salt Seared Swordfish with Garlic and Mint Adapted from The Southern Italian Table by Arthur Schwartz
1 tablespoon dried mint (You may need more than a tablespoon of dried leaves to make a tablespoon of sieved.)
6 to 8 large cloves garlic, finely chopped (I used a microplane grater for the garlic.)
At least 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (Use the finest you have for the most flavor.)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (I added a little more than a tablespoon.)
2 tablespoons large-crystal sea salt (You may need more depending on the size of your skillet.)
2 (1/2-inch thick) swordfish steaks, skin removed (My steaks were about an inch thick. I also chose to leave the skins on. I think doing so makes it easier to turn the fish.)
With your fingertips, push the mint through a fine sieve onto a large platter. (To end up with 1 tablespoon of dried mint powder, I used a little more than the 1 tablespoon of dried mint leaves.)
Add the garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Blend with a fork. (Using a microplane for the garlic makes it easier to blend the garlic into the sauce.)
Sprinkle the bottom of a heavy 9- to 10-inch skillet (black cast iron works best) evenly with salt. Place over high heat. When the pan is so hot that you can’t leave your palm 3 inches over it for more than 5 seconds, place the swordfish on top of the salt and cook for 3 minutes. (I’m not an expert on non-stick cookware, but since you’ll be getting the pan very hot, a non-stick skillet may not withstand such a high temperature.)
Turn the fish and cook another 2 to 3 minutes for medium-well, without a trace of pink in the center. (For my 1-inch thick steaks, I went for a full 3 minutes on each side.)
Lift the fish from the pan with tongs or a fork and brush off any large pieces of salt clinging to it. (Since we really like salt, I left a few crystals on our steaks.)
Place the fish on the platter and turn it to coat with the raw sauce, finally spooning some of the sauce on top.
Wine Pairing: Grillo, Falanghina, Sauvignon Blanc
Another trip down memory lane. As a child asking “What’s for dinner?”, I used to dread hearing the words “pasta acciughe,” Italian for “anchovy pasta.” But unlike many kids today, my brother and I had to eat, or at least try, whatever was put in front of us. “It’s an acquired taste,” my dad would say.
Well, I must admit it took me a few years to acquire that taste, but now I’m happy I did. Pasta acciughe was frequently served in our home as a first course on Friday nights, as well as during Lent, when we weren’t allowed to have meat. For the longest time, I thought having to eat it was a kind of penance for misbehaving.
Anchovy sauce is both simple to prepare and cooks in about the same time it takes to make the pasta. There are many variations of this dish, but mine is among the most straightforward. It has 4 ingredients: olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and fresh parsley. What I like most about it is that nothing interferes with the pungent, slaty, savory flavor of the anchovies. And although this dish is sometimes served sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs, I prefer to enjoy mine plain. For me, the breadcrumbs detract from the unctuous texture and briny flavor of the sauce.
For this recipe, I like to use canned salt-cured fillets packed in oil. My favorite brand is Agostino Recca.
Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced fine
10 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
8 oz spaghetti
2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
In a 10” heavy bottomed skillet, poach the garlic in the olive oil over low heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. The garlic should take on only a minimum of color.
Mid-way through the poaching, start cooking the pasta in well salted water. Try to time the cooking of the pasta so that it will be al dente when the sauce if finished.
When the garlic is finished poaching, place the anchovies in the pan and continue to cook mashing them with the back of a wooden spoon until they dissolve into the oil. (About 2 minutes.) When they have dissolved, add the parsley and continue to cook still over low heat for about 2 minutes.
Using tongs or a spaghetti fork, transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet. Take off the heat and toss the pasta with the sauce until nicely coated. If the sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon of the pasta water to loosen it up.
Sprinkle, if desired, with some freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Wine Pairing: Pecorino, Falanghina.
Sometimes when entertaining you need to adjust your menu to a guest’s needs. For a recent dinner party, I was planning a menu around grilled baby lamb chops, when one of my friends called and announced that she just had gone through oral surgery. “Chewing may be a problem,” she said.
Although a meatloaf was the first dish that came to mind as a replacement, I opted for a more elegant alternative: slow-roasted salmon with cherry tomatoes and couscous that I haven’t made in quite a while. The center-cut piece of salmon slowly roasted over a bed of herbs would pose no problem and the tomato and parsley studded couscous would be an easy-to-chew side.
Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cherry Tomatoes and Couscous from Bon Appetit. (Click here for the original recipe.)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used full fat.)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided (I didn’t measure, but used considerably more, especially in the pan.)
1/2 bunch dill fronds
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs
1 3-pound piece center-cut skin-on salmon fillet, preferably wild king, pin bones removed (I opted for farmed salmon, which almost eliminates hunting for pin bones.)
8 ounces small cherry tomatoes on the vine (optional)
TOMATOES AND COUSCOUS
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons za’atar (optional)
2 cups Israeli couscous (I went for quick cook, regular couscous.)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (I omitted the butter.)
Mix first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. Season with salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Preheat oven to 325°. Pour 4 Tbsp. oil in a roasting pan just large enough to fit the salmon. Make a bed of herbs in bottom of pan; top with salmon, skin side down. Drizzle salmon with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and season with salt. Top with tomatoes, if using. Bake until salmon is just cooked through in the center (a small knife will slide easily through flesh), 25–30 minutes.
TOMATOES AND COUSCOUS
Toss tomatoes with 3 Tbsp. oil, parsley, and za’atar, if using, in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add couscous and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain couscous; transfer to a large bowl. Stir in butter and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil. Season to taste with salt. Gently fold tomatoes into couscous.
Use a large spoon or fork to serve salmon, leaving skin in pan. Serve with yogurt sauce and couscous.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc
For me, one of the most attractive characteristics of Italian cooking has always been its simplicity–its recipes with minimal ingredients and simple preparation. As I child, I used to watch my mother and aunt in the kitchen turn out multi-course dinners for us, night after night, without breaking a sweat. They cooked from memory the simple dishes with which they themselves grew up. One such dish was baked fish coated with breadcrumbs, which hailed from my mother’s Sicilian family.
Yesterday, when I came home from the fish market with some beautifully fresh swordfish, I thought I would try to recreate my mother’s dish and started looking for a recipe.
My search led me to one from Arthur Schwartz’s The Southern Italian Table: “Pesce Spada Impanata,” or Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style. Thin cutlets of swordfish are coated with seasoned bread crumbs and quickly baked. The savory, garlicky coating perfectly complements the subtly sweet, meaty flavors of the swordfish.
I served the fish accompanied by another of my mother’s favorites, string beans sautéed with garlic and oil.
Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style from The Southern Italian Table
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon roughly ground fennel seed
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound swordfish, cut into 1/4 inch thick cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place a rack on the highest rung of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450° F. (The position of the rack is important as it allows for a faster baking of the fish and the browning of the crumbs. RM)
Combine the breadcrumbs, salt, fennel seed, garlic, parsley, and 1 tablespoon of the oil on a large plate. Mix until all the bread crumbs are moistened with oil. (My breadcrumbs were quite dry and I needed to add a little more than the called-for tablespoon. RM)
Brush the fish slices lightly with the remaining tablespoon of oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Dredge each slice in the seasoned bread crumbs, pressing the crumbs into the fish so that each side is well coated. Arrange the fish slices on a baking sheet.
Bake the fish for 5 to 6 minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges.
My Note: Be sure to have your rack on the highest rung possible of your oven and to use a baking sheet without sides as opposed to a sheet pan with sides. Doing so will help the breading get more color. I did not have a baking sheet and had to put the fish under the broiler for the final minute or so to lightly brown the crumbs.
Wine Pairing: Grillo, un-oaked Chardonnay