May 30, 2017 Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Fish is on the menu at our house three nights a week and though the method of cooking is usually the same, I am always looking for new ways to complement it. This recipe, Baked Cod Fillet with Bouillabaisse Sauce with Green Olive Tapenade from the April issue of Food and Wine seemed to fit that bill. It combines the classic flavors of bouillabaisse: fennel, garlic, saffron and tomatoes, to make a delicious sauce along with a quick briny olive tapenade.

The origins of bouillabaisse can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks and was the humble fare of fishermen in Provence, specifically from the port city of Marseille. The best of the catch would be sold to restaurants while the less desirable bony rockfish and shellfish would become part of the fisherman’s dinner, a stew cooked with sea water and simmered over an open fire. Bouillabaisse has come a long way since then to become one of the most iconic French dishes.

The first step of the recipe is to chop the fennel, leek, onion and celery. This can be done by hand or a food processor makes quick work of this step. Just be certain that all pieces are relatively the same size to ensure even cooking. Sauté the vegetables over medium heat until softened then add the garlic and saffron. Saffron adds a subtle flavor and aroma and its beautiful golden color. At about forty dollars a bottle, Pernod is an ingredient I could not justify buying since I was only using a few tablespoons. It adds a subtle anise flavor so if you have some on hand, by all means use it. Add dry white wine and vermouth to the pot and reduce the liquid by half. Next into the pot are halved and smashed cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes are an acceptable substitute here.

The next step is to make fish stock. I am fortunate to have an outstanding fish market that supplies me with fish bones and heads needed for stock making. If making fish stock would stop you from making this recipe, substitute clam broth or  fish bouillon.  Always taste products like this first, since they can be salty. After the sauce cooks, cool slightly and carefully discard the fish bones if using. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce then pass it through a food mill into a sauce pan. Keep the sauce warm over low heat.

The green olive tapenade is very easy to do and adds a briny contrast to the rich sauce. Cook the fish according to your favorite method, we use the Canadian fisheries method with consistent results. The sauce and the tapenade can be made several days ahead making this an impressive recipe for entertaining.

Baked Halibut with Bouillabaisse Sauce and Green Olive Tapenade

Serves four

Ingredients for the sauce

  • 4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1-1 lb fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1 large leek, trimmed and finely chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ t saffron threads
  • 2 T Pernod or pastis (optional)
  • ¾ c dry white wine
  • ¾ c dry vermouth
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and smashed
  • ½ t smoked paprika
  • 2 lbs white fish bones, rinsed and dried
  • 2 t fresh lemon juice (plus more for drizzling)
  • Kosher salt
  • Four 6-oz. white fish fillets like cod, halibut, grouper

Directions for the sauce

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fennel, leek, onion and celery and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and the saffron and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes
  3. Add the Pernod (if using) and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and vermouth and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika and simmer over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fish bones and cook over medium high heat, turning once, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the bones to the casserole and add two cups of water. Cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat for 30 minutes. Let the sauce cool slightly then discard the fish bones.
  6. Using an immersion blender puree the sauce, then strain through the fine mesh of a food mill into a medium saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons lemon juice, season with salt and keep warm.

Ingredients for the Green Olive Tapenade

  • ¼ c green pitted olives
  • 2 T rinsed and drained capers
  • 2 T flat leaved parsley
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ T fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the Green Olive Tapenade

  1.  Place the first five ingredients in the bowl of a mini food processor and pulse until combined and roughly chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cooking the Fish

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Coat a shallow baking dish with non stick spray. Season the fish fillets with salt.
  3. Measure your fish fillets at the thickest point. Bake the fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.

Finishing the Dish

  1. Ladle the sauce into 4 shallow bowls and top each one with a cod fillet Spoon the tapenade over the fish. Drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately.

May 17, 2017 Spinach and Butternut Squash Salad

Spinach and butternut squash salad certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a spring dish, but right now it makes perfect sense to me. I still have a few squash to use from last fall’s harvest and spinach plants that still have some nice leaves to offer before they go to seed.

Begin the recipe with a medium-sized squash, 2 to 2 ½ lbs, using a sharp knife, cut off a half-inch piece at the stem and base ends. Cut the squash in half where the neck meets the bulb. I find it easiest to use my Kuhn Rikon peeler to remove not only the skin but also the white flesh and green fibers below the surface, the peeled squash should be completely orange. Scoop out the seeds, I like to toast mine for snacking and can also be used to garnish salads and soups. Cut the squash into 1 inch cubes, they will shrink during the roasting process. Toss the cubes with olive oil and spread them out evenly on a lined baking sheet and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

While the squash cubes are roasting, make the warm bacon dressing. Fry four slices of bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Place the cooked bacon on a paper towel lined plated to drain. Pour off the bacon fat into a metal bowl, the hot oil might melt a plastic bowl.  In the residual fat that is left in the skillet, saute a medium chopped shallot until soft. Stir in the other dressing ingredients along with some of the warm bacon fat, keep over very low heat.

Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl and toss with the warm dressing. I prefer to place the other ingredients on top of the individual salads rather than tossed with the spinach, since they are heavier and inevitably sink to the bottom. Rather than the traditional fall version of this salad that would include dried cranberries or pomegranate arils, I added some thin strips of roasted pepper. I used toasted pecan halves, some creamy feta, and some of the bacon crumbled on top to complete the salad. Make it your own with toasted walnuts or butternut squash seeds and crumbled Roquefort instead of the feta.

 

Spinach and Butternut Squash Salad

Serves two

Ingredients for the Salad

  • 5-6 cups of spinach
  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 T or more of extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ c toasted pecan halves
  • ¼ c roasted red pepper slivers
  • 1/3 c crumbled feta
Spinach that is going to seed but perfectly good enough for a salad.
Peeled whole butternut squash.

Ingredients for the Dressing

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 medium shallot
  • ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 T or more honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the Salad and Dressing

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F convection or 425°F standard. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.
  2. Peel and seed the squash, cut it into 1 inch cubes. In a large bowl toss the squash with olive oil and place evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown, about 20 minutes, at the halfway point carefully move the cubes around on the sheet to ensure even browning. Set cubes aside to cool. You will have enough for several days worth of salads.
  3. In a large frying pan, cook bacon over medium high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and pour the bacon fat into a small metal bowl.
  4. Cook the shallot in the same pan until soft, 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar, mustard and honey and mix well. Whisk in two tablespoons of the bacon fat and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl and toss with the warm dressing. Divide the salad onto two plates. Top each with about a half cup of butternut squash cubes, pecan halves, pepper strips, feta and some of the crumbled bacon. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.

May 11, 2017 Spring Salad

Saturday morning was the first local outdoor farmers market of the season and I was ready to seek out some old favorites, and gain a little inspiration for a salad to accompany that night’s dinner. Local for me is the Wrightstown Farmers Market, about three miles from our house. It is held every Saturday, rain or shine from the first Saturday in May to the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The hours are from 9 to 1 but there was already a sizable crowd when I pulled in at 8:45.
The favorites I was looking for, some drip ground coffee from The Coffee Scoop for Sunday morning, the Guatemalan variety is exceptionally smooth. It wouldn’t be a visit without a stop to visit The Dog Bone Guy. I have to load up on cookies for our furry boys.

I love to create salads and spring is a great time to take advantage of the garden’s first offerings. I saw signs this week for local asparagus as I was driving around our area. I located several vendors offering asparagus and chose a bunch of fat purple asparagus and a leaner green bunch. The other two purchases I made for the salad were a bunch of plump red radishes and some shiitake mushrooms. Fortified with an orange cranberry scone I was ready to see what I could find in our own garden.

We have a wonderful crop of salad greens, a mesclun mix and Lollo Rosso, thanks to Joe’s hard work. Along with greens, we have spinach and miner’s lettuce, staples of early spring salads. So I picked a combination and went to work.

In winter months I usually roast asparagus but I thought that steaming would bring out the sweetness of the newly picked stalks. Next, what to do with the shiitake mushrooms? I use shiitake, both dried and fresh quite often but never raw in a salad. Was it okay to use raw shiitakes in a salad? Some quick research revealed a condition, shiitake dermatitis, that manifests in dark red blistering welts.  A component in shiitakes, lentinan, breaks down with heat so this reaction only occurs when the mushrooms are raw or partially cooked. Not certain if  I wanted to find out if we were one of the nine in five hundred people who react, I chose to add them to my steamer basket. The last addition, a little leftover smoked salmon. The sweetness of the asparagus combines perfectly with the smoky, saltiness of the salmon.

I made a very basic vinaigrette with some fines herbes, the perfect addition to a spring salad and garnished with some chervil flowers.

Spring Salad

Serves two

Ingredients for the Salad

  • Assorted  greens, 5-6 cups I used lettuces, miner’s lettuce and spinach
  • 2 or 3 medium radishes
  • 3 large spears of asparagus
  • Fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • Smoked salmon

Ingredients for Vinaigrette

  • 2 T grapefruit balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T fines herbes (combination of parsley, tarragon, chervil and chives
  • Chervil flowers to garnish the salad
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Tear lettuces into bite sized pieces in a large bowl. Slice radishes thinly and add to the salad bowl.
  2. Cut asparagus into bite sized diagonal pieces. Discard the mushroom stems and cut the caps into thin slices. Steam the asparagus and mushrooms until tender. Mushroom caps will take about 3 minutes, thick asparagus pieces about 5-6 minutes. Pat dry  with paper towels and allow to cool. Add to the salad bowl
  3. Break the smoked salmon into bite sized chunks and add to the salad bowl.
  4. Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in small bowl. Pour over the salad and toss lightly. Divide salad on two plates. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

 

May 7, 2017 Fines Herbes

Fines herbes (feen ZERB) translates from the French to, as you may have guessed, fine herbs. Its origins are found in classic French cuisine and often attributed to “the king of chefs and the chef of kings” Escoffier.  Fine herbes is a blend of equal parts chervil, tarragon, chives and parsley. Thyme is the next most typical inclusion and occasionally marjoram, savory and watercress. Three of the four, chervil, tarragon and chives, are spring herbs that are flourishing in the garden now, parsley won’t be planted until June. By then the warm days of summer will send the chervil to seed, the chives will be past their blossom but will still be fine to use and the tarragon will start to flower. There are dried versions of fines herbes sold by every major herb supplier, but dried chervil and parsley lose much of their flavor in comparison to when they are fresh.

Chervil is a shade loving annual with feathery leaves and lacy white flowers, like a pale dainty parsley. It doesn’t last long once it is cut. I have never seen it a market, farmers or otherwise so growing it is your best option. The good news is even though it is an annual, it easily self seeds. Our crop of chervil migrated on its own from the garden to a shady spot in the back of the house and shows up every spring.

Chives love the sun and are one of the first herbs to pop up in the garden. The beautiful lavender blossoms are a welcome addition of color to the early spring garden. Chinese chives, also called garlic chives, bloom in the fall with white flowers. Garlic chives self seed very easily and if you don’t want them to take over your garden, don’t let them go to seed.  For fines herbes I would recommend regular chives, their delicate onion flavor harmonizes well with the other herbs.

Parsley has a warm gentle flavor, green and piny, with just a touch of camphor. Parsley mellows the assertiveness of its partners in flavor while adding its own intensity. Our parsley plants are still in flats, waiting another month or so for the warmer days of summer. We grow both curly and flat leaved or Italian parsley. I prefer flat leaved parsley for this mix.

Tarragon has a robust anisey camphor flavor, the counterpoint to the milder parsley licorice flavor of chervil. Tarragon is an herb that usually stands alone  with the exception of this blend. The chervil, parsley and chives are not assertive enough to challenge the tarragon.

Fines herbes are always used as a finishing element to a dish, sprinkled in an omelet or scrambled eggs, in a simple vinaigrette, over some freshly steamed mussels, topping a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Make fine herbes in small quantities since it is best fresh.

Fines Herbes

Makes about a quarter cup

Ingredients

  • 1 T finely chopped tarragon
  • 1 T finely chopped chervil
  • 1 T finely chopped chives
  • 1 T finely chopped flat leaved parsley

Directions

  1. With a sharp chef’s knife, chop each of the herbs separately.
  2. Measure out a tablespoon of each and combine in a small bowl.
  3. Add fines herbes at the end of the cooking process to preserve the flavor of the herbs.