A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Baked Cod with Saffron, Tomatoes, and Fennel

Over the weekend I relearned an important lesson about cooking, especially for people like you and me who use so many cookbooks: never, ever let what a cookbook says override your own judgment.

I remember you telling me about a family friend back in Hawaii who was perplexed that a recipe she'd made wasn't very good. The dish was something like tuna-and-lima bean casserole, but worse. And of course it wasn't good -- it didn't sound good. One has to learn to judge which dishes might be novel but good and which will be bad. There's a line between trying new things and trying everything.

So, I'm reviewing a cookbook/reference about sustainable seafood for Abode. It's called Fish Forever, by Paul Johnson, and is so far quite wonderful. And I got so excited about the recipe for Orange-Scented Olive Tapenade. The recipe was intended for albacore, but the book said a milder fish like flounder or halibut would work well, too, and I had some turbot, so I used that. And it wasn't right at all. The fish was delicate and mild and not good at all with that big serious topping. And I should have known that.

The tapenade was good left over on bread. But here's a more successful recipe from the book. He calls it Mediterranean Baked Cod, but that's not a very descriptive name, so I'm calling it Baked Cod with Saffron, Tomatoes, and Fennel and including a few important modifications. It is simple and wonderful.

Preheat oven to 400, and with it a casserole or Dutch oven, lid and all.

Pour in:

- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 to 4 saffron threads (really! that few! I promise)
- 1 or 2 leeks, or one very sweet onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced or chopped

Toss, cover, and return to oven for 10 minutes or until sizzling and beginning to brown.

Remove casserole and add:

- 3/4 cup dry white wine (or, most successfully, champagne. SO GOOD.)
- juice of 1/2 lemon

Let cool for a minute. Place on top:

- 12 to 20 ounces of cod fillets

Toss in a bowl, then dump over top of fish:

- 3 medium tomatoes, chopped, or 1.5 containers cherry or grape tomatoes, some halved
- 2 more tablespoons olive oil
- salt
- pepper

Cover, return to oven, and bake about 10 mor eminutes, until fish is cooked through. Serve over couscous or something else that can soak up a bunch of saffrony tomato broth.

I can't wait to make this with fresh garden tomatoes.

More on the book later this month in Abode.

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