Contributed by Melissa Roberts
By now, winter feels endless. Had enough heavy stews and soups already? Even when stuck in winter’s grip, you can bring the warmth of sunnier climes to the table with this one dish fish entree that combines the flavors of Provence.
Thick cod fillets are nestled in a rustic tomato based sauce with fennel, bell pepper, plenty of sliced garlic, onions and olives. The vegetables are cooked down to their essential richness, then finished with a hit of orange zest. The ease of this dish is perfect for a weekday meal rotation, and even better, the sauce’s flavors deepen if made a day or two ahead. Just reheat in the baking dish or bring to room temperature before adding the cod.
Recipe: Melissa Roberts
A deglaze of Pernod or Pastis, an anise flavored liquor (and distant cousin of absinthe) complements the licorice flavor of the fennel in the sauce. In fact, it’s an essential ingredient in bouillabaise, a Provencal classic. If you don’t have Pernod on hand and prefer not to add it to your bar collection, white wine can easily be substituted without sacrificing flavor. Butter is added at the end to enrich the sauce, but can be also be omitted if making the dish dairy free. Flexibility is key to rustic cooking.
This recipe is dairy with pareve (non-dairy) option
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow or red onion, chopped
- 1 medium fennel bulb with tops, tough outer layer trimmed and bulb chopped (reserve fronds)
- 1 medium bell pepper (any color), chopped
- 2 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons Pastis or Pernod*
- 1 (32 ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, drained of juice
- 1/3 cup pitted picholine or kalamata olives, halved
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter**
- 4 (6 ounce) center cut Atlantic cod fillets
- 1 orange
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat.
- Add onion, fennel, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add pepper and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are completely softened, 8 to 10 minutes more.
- Add Pastis and cook, stirring until half of liquor is evaporated. Add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands or with the back of a spoon, then olives and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
- Simmer sauce 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Transfer to a 2-quart shallow baking dish.
- Preheat oven to 350F with rack in middle.
- Arrange cod fillets over sauce. Drizzle top of fish with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until fish is opaque and just cooked through, 12 to 14 minutes.
- Chop ¼ cup’s worth of fennel fronds. Zest some orange over cod fillets (best done with a microplane) and sprinkle fish with chopped fronds.
*A equivalent amount of dry white wine may be substituted.
**Butter enriches the sauce at the end, but omit it if you wish to make the dish dairy free.
Cook’s note: Sauce (without fish) can be made and kept chilled in an airtight container up to 3 days ahead. Bring to room temperature or reheat in baking dish before adding fish.