Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bass in artichoke and tomato broth over mashed butternutty potatoes


I love, love this recipe from an old issue of Gourmet. The combination of flavors is not unexpected, but rather simple and classic: tomatoes, artichokes, wine, garlic, olives. Yet it still comes together as much more than the sum of its parts. It's crazy easy and delicious, another excellent recipe staple for the weeknight repertoire. Sure, it might seem a little winter-y, being basically a stew, but it's actually quite light.

This is best served atop soft mashed potatoes to sop up all the sauce and avoid challenging the delicate texture of the fish. If I have any butternut squash laying around such as today, I like to use half squash to make it a little more nutritious and interesting (and fabulously colored). I've used all kinds of white fish and can confirm that anything firm and relatively mild will do nicely.

One wonderful thing about this recipe is that it's composed almost entirely of pantry ingredients. A can of stewed tomatoes, some frozen artichoke hearts, a few olives that I always have in the fridge, the odd potato that's inevitably laying around. At this time of year, I would definitely consider the can of stewed tomatoes negotiable if you have lovely fresh garden or farmer's market tomatoes at your disposal. The other really nice thing about this recipe is that if you're only cooking for two, you can pop half of the artichoke tomato broth into a Ziploc freezer bag (once it's cooled, obvies) and throw it in the freezer. Then all you have to do is thaw and add fish and you've got dinner all ready to go for another night.

1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into chunks (smaller chunks cook faster)
an equal amount of butternut squash, peeled and cut into similar sized chunks as the potato
pat of butter
splash of milk

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 9oz package of frozen artichoke hearts (I've used canned in a pinch, but frozen are better), thawed, drained, and cut into manageable pieces that would fit onto a fork
1 15oz can of stewed tomatoes
1/3 cup of kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup water
1 orange (you're going to zest it over the dish at the end)

4 fillets of any firm, mild white fish

Preheat the oven to 400. If you can't stomach that during this never-ending heat wave, you can certainly lower the temperature and bake a little longer. I've actually made this before using just the stovetop too. So, you know, do your thing. It does make for a much prettier presentation when baked, if you're into that sort of thing. 

Put a pot of salted water and boil your root vegetables while you get everything else together. When they're done (stick a fork in them - if they split, they're done), drain them well and dump the chunks back into the hot pot. Add butter and milk to taste along with a good pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then mash to your desired consistency. Set aside.

Heat a glug of extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and allow to soften for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic for another minute. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil for another minute, then add the artichoke hearts, stewed tomatoes, olives, and water. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (watching the salt if your olives are very salty). Simmer the broth for 10 minutes or so to let the flavors combine, crushing the tomato chunks with a spoon as they start to break down. I'm not sure why they call this a "broth", I would think it was more of a sauce. Aren't broths clear? Should I be stressing about this? Probably not.

Season the fillets with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides. Transfer a couple of scoops of the broth/sauce to a baking dish and arrange your fish on it, then top with the rest. Cover tightly with foil and bake until your fish is done - thin little tilapia fillets only take 12-ish minutes, but a thick sea bass or halibut fillet could take twice as long. It's done when the fish is opaque and flakes easily. This is a forgiving recipe, there's little danger of having crappy dry overcooked fish since it's served in the broth.

Plate a mound of mashed butternut potatoes in a wide shallow bowl and top with a fillet and generous smothering of broth. Zest a few turns of your orange over the top.

Serves 4, takes about half an hour.

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