Posts Tagged ‘fish’

Southern-Italian-inspired baked whole fish, and pasta with garlic and hot pepper

For dinner last night we made two dishes inspired by our travels in southern Italy, both very easy and delicious. One was a whole black sea bass, which we seasoned and baked. The other was spaghetti with a simple and flavorful topping.

We went to our local fishmonger on Saturday morning, and he had a fresh 2-pound back bass, which he gutted for us but otherwise left whole. To cook the fish that evening, I preheated the oven to 425, and lined a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. I arranged a few lemon slices on the parchment paper, rubbed 3 to 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on both sides of the fish, sprinkled salt on both sides too, and then lay the fish down on the lemon slices. I put a half-dozen more lemon slices in to the fish cavity, along with 6 to 8 sprigs of fresh thyme. Last, I rolled some cherry tomatoes around in a bowl with another tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, put the tomatoes onto the same baking sheet, and put it all in the oven for 30 minutes.

A fresh black bass

A fresh black bass

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

Meanwhile, I put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the spaghetti, and set out other ingredients I had around: a dried cayenne pepper from my garden of two years ago, a tablespoon of capers in brine, and about 1/3 cup Calabrian caper shoots in olive oil we had recently been given a jar of. I took a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano out of the fridge to come to room temp, and finely grated 2 cups worth using a zester.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

Caper shoots in olive oil

Caper shoots in olive oil

I put a large skillet on low heat, and added about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. I sliced six cloves of garlic into thin slices, being careful to pull out and discard the green sprout from each clove – the garlic is a bit old and tired now, almost time for a new season. I added the garlic to the oil, and let it gently cook for 15 minutes, being careful that the heat was low enough that the garlic did not get very brown. Then I removed the garlic with a slotted spoon, and put in the hot pepper flakes from 1 cayenne pepper, the capers and the caper shoots.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

Meanwhile, the salted pasta water had boiled, so I put in about 3/4 lb of spaghetti, and cooked until al dente. I drained the pasta well, and then poured it in to the large skillet with the olive oil and other ingredients, and stirred well. I tossed in about 1/2 cup of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, and stirred in the cheese. And, the fish was just out of the oven! We gently pulled the fish off the bones on each side, and served with the cherry tomatoes and pasta, with sea salt, olive oil, and fresh lemon wedges on the table for additional seasoning.

The fish just out of the oven.

The fish just out of the oven.

Dinner!

Dinner!

It all paired very well with a chilled Viognier. Yum!

Ceebu Jen – a rice and fish dish from Senegal

One of my neighbors recently had a baby, and a mutual friend cooked up an amazing celebratory lunch for the family and invited a half-dozen more of us to join in. He explained that you can’t make Ceebu Jen for a small number of people. It was a dish the village he lived in in Senegal, would make for special occasions. It was delicious, and I asked my friend how to make it. His recipe follows, albeit in text form rather than “ingredients and directions”. Enjoy! -Jillian

Ceebu Jen, Senegalese rice and fish

The dish is “Ceebu Jen” in the non-official Wolof orthography. The name means “rice and fish” or more literally “the rice’s fish” if you care to translate directly from Wolof to English.

Usually made with ocean fish (the preferred fish is a kind of grouper) but I made mine with catfish. Meaty filets such as swordfish also work well, but in my opinion catfish is more flavorful.

In a deep soup pot, fry the fish in several lots (careful not to crowd the pot) in more hot oil than you’d later care to own up to when asked (I used canola but in Senegal they’d use peanut oil). Feel free to liberally sprinkle the frying fish with black pepper. Remove fish and keep covered.

Have water pre-measured and standing nearby (two cups of water per one cup of rice to be cooked). Before adding the water, throw a whole lotta minced garlic into the hot oil and stir quickly. Allow to brown slightly but not burn (should only take a few seconds). Stop the garlic carnage by pouring all the water into the pot at once – carefully! Don’t get burned by splashing up hot oil!

Add two Maggi cubes per cup of water to the pot (or twice the recommended amount of any good, beef-flavored soup base).

Splash in about one-eighth cup of cider vinegar. Add tomato paste in the following (wildly approximate) proportion: about one tablespoon per cup of water. Stir as it heats, until the Maggi/soup base and tomato paste are dissolved. Allow to come to a rolling boil.

Into the boiling pot of broth, I usually put in some combination of the following vegetables: carrots, eggplant, cabbage, sweet potato, manioc/cassava/yucca. Cut the vegetables into pieces of a size that each type of vegetable will cook in about the same amount of time (e.g. – bigger pieces of softer veggies, smaller pieces of harder vegetables). Always make sure the chunks of cabbage have some stem attached so it doesn’t simply break into individual leaves; if using large eggplants, choose the smallest you can find and cut in half only (no more) otherwise the smaller pieces will just cook away into nothing. Remove vegetables when cooked and keep covered.

To the pot, return any broth that has accumulated inside the containers where the fish and veggies are being kept. Add more tomato paste (in about the same proportions as before). Allow to return to a rolling boil and stir to dissolve the tomato paste.

Add the rice to the pot (remember: one cup of rice to two cups of pre-measured water). Return just to the boil, stir briefly to break up clumps of rice, turn to low/simmer and cover. Leave the rice undisturbed to cook, about twenty minutes for 2-4 cups of rice, about thirty to forty minutes for larger quantities. Check the rice after about half an hour. Once the rice along the edge of the pot is cooked, stir any remaining broth into the rice and allow it to be absorbed. Turn off the heat and allow the covered pot to sit for ten minutes.

Turn the cooked rice into a large bowl (at least 24 inch diameter). If you’re lucky, there will be some burned and crunchy rice stuck to the bottom of the pot. Allow that yummy stuff to cool a bit, then scrape it out with the edge of a spoon and save in a separate bowl – to be served like croutons on top of the finished product.

Now, arrange some of the fish in the center of the plain bowl of rice, flanked by a variety of cooked vegetables. Serve with lime wedges and habanero hot sauce. Sprinkle burnt rice ‘croutons’ over everything if you got ’em. Tastes best when eaten by hand out of the one large central bowl.