Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Olive Tapenade and Lemon Arugula

bass_websize.jpgWith the summer in full swing, I have been very keen on cooking simple flavorful meals with crisp and fresh flavors. I was inspired by one of Jamie Oliver's recipes in which he paired monkish with an olive salsa. Bass was the fish we had on hand though, so bass it was! I often turn to Jamie Oliver when I'm looking for great flavor combinations that transform into rustic and colorful dishes. Fish can however be a little tricky to cook, as fillets such as this one cook relatively fast and over-cook pretty fast too. Loyal to my culinary school knowledge, I crisped the fish skin in a hot skillet and finished the cooking in the oven. It turned out well, and the whole dish came together nicely. The rest of the olive tapenade was then used on crusty bread. I have been deliberately writing out my blog recipes more liberally than I used to. I find it difficult to set exact quantities of salt, or oil to be used. That depends on not only taste, but the size of your pan, the quantity of vegetable that you have on hand, the weight and thickness of the fish or meat that your are using etc. I have learned a lot about cooking by learning how to taste my food. I now taste my food constantly as I am cooking it to adjust seasoning and flavor. I have also learned to use ratios in the kitchen rather than exact quantities. For salad dressings for instance, the standard ratio is usually 3 parts fat to 1 part acidity. This ratio works for olive oil and vinegar dressings as it does for lemon and oil ones. Let me know if you have any comments on this new setup of recipes as I do intend them on being as clear as can be!
Recipe: (for 2)
2 bass fillets
Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Olive Tapenade:
A good handful of good quality black olives, finely diced
1/2 tomato, diced
1 tablespoon of capers, drained and sliced
Lemon juice
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
A handful of fresh oregano and basil, finely chopped

Arugula Salad:
A handful of arugula
Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Make the tapenade by mixing the olives, capers, herbs and tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Drizzle in some balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and taste again. Add a good drizzle of olive oil to bind all the ingredients together. You can also do this in a blender. Reserve.Preheat your oven to 400 F. Pat the fish dry. Season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet to medium high heat and add some oil. Once the oil is hot, add the fish, skin side down, and press it down with a fish spatula to make it doesn't curl up and crisps evenly. Leave to cook for about 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Shake the pan at times to make sure the fish does not stick. Once the skin has crisped and browned nicely, flip the fish over on the flesh side and cook for 30 seconds. Put the skillet in the oven and cook for 2-3 minutes until cooked through. The fish is done when it's flaky but still slightly bouncy to the touch.Toss the arugula with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. The ratio should be 3 to 1 with 3 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon. Serve the fish on top of the arugula and spoon over the tapenade. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Caponata-stuffed Mushrooms

I have been meaning to post my caponata recipe for a while. I like this recipe because it can be applied to so many different dishes. You can serve the caponata simply tossed with penne, served with a firm piece of fish, to top a bruschetta, or, as I've done here, as a filling for mushrooms. It's also a great recipes for those days where you want something hearty but don't have that much time to cook.

I haven't been cooking nearly as much as I would want. A lot of our kitchen utensils are still in boxes (we are pretty slow at the whole moving thing!) and our kitchen, had, up to a few days ago, been housing excess boxes as well. Things are slowly moving forward though, and with my cookbook collection out again, I have never been in such a good cleaning mood. For now though, the aroma of this simple meal wafted through our new place and helped make it feel a bit more like home..


Recipe (for 4), adapted from Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy
1 italian eggplant, diced
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
2 large tomatoes, diced
A handful of chopped parsley (leaves and stems to be kept separately)
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
3 cloved of garlic, minced
Large button mushrooms

Cook the eggplant in a pan on high heat with some olive oil. The eggplant should cook on one layer, so you might have to cook it in batches. Cook the eggplant for 4-5 minutes until it softens. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onion, garlic and parsley stems. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the red wine vinegar, capers and tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Rid the mushrooms of their stems and scoop out some of the inside to obtain a large surface to welcome stuffing. Grill the mushrooms (or saute) until lightly golden brown. Fill with the caponata. Enjoy!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lemon Calamari and Cherry Tomato Salad

I stopped by the local market a couple days ago in search of some fresh fish. I was in the mood for bass but couldn't find it at the fishmonger. Montreal is a strange city when it comes to fish and seafood. Growing up in Paris (which isn't exactly a maritime city) I was used to the great abundance of local markets and the easiness to find great varieties of fish at anytime of year. Montreal, for a reason that I have yet to discover, offers very little variety of fish in most places, and what is offered is quite expensive. Frustrated at the sight of the fish available, I settled for calamari.

I found grilling calamari to be quite the experience. Being not incredibly awake while making lunch, I attempted to gently place the calamari on our indoor grill. The tentacles danced to the sizzling oil, and, for a second, I thought it might still be alive. Fortunately for me, it wasn't. I was clearly in no mood for a fight. It's surprising how easy, and quick, it is to cook calamari. It must, actually, be cooked in a couple minutes to prevent it from becoming tough and chewy, so it's really an easy solution for a quick meal.

Recipe (for 2)

4 calamari, tubes and tentacles
8 medium size cherry tomatoes
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
2 green onions, sliced
A couple sprigs of fresh thyme, picked
Salt and pepper to taste

Slit the calamari tubes on one side to open them up, and lightly score one side. Place them in a bowl and add half the lemon juice, the zest, the garlic, half of the thyme, salt and pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil. Leave to marinate while you make the tomato salad. Quarter the tomatoes and place them in a bowl. Add the sliced scallions, the rest of the lemon juice and the rest of thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Get your grill on medium high heat. Once it's hot, place the calamari on the grill. gently pressing down so they don't curl up too much. After 1 minute turn them around. Make sure to pour the extra thyme and garlic over top. Cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and slice in bite-size pieces. Add to the tomato salad and toss. Adjust seasoning. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Spaghetti with Broccolini, Sausage and Chili Flakes


I've always really enjoyed pasta lightly tossed with vegetables rather than swimming in sauce. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a heart-warming slice of meaty lasgna from time to time, but when I am in the mood for something quick, flavourful and light, I always opt for simple pasta dishes like this one. I have been meaning to try the combination of a bitter vegetable with sweet sausage (especially since tasting sausage and swiss chard penne at Mario Batali's Otto in New York), so this is my take on that combination of flavors.

I have been in the process of moving apartments since I've been back in Montreal.. so the cooking has been minimal, and with minimal tools. It's always a nice feeling when good food comes out of your kitchen in minutes, made with few ingredients and requires very little cleanup.

For 4

A bunch of broccolini, disregarding the stems
2 sweet Italian sausages, casing removed
1/8 cup of dry white wine
A pinch of chili flakes
6 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
Parmesan cheese to taste
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
A good handful of spaghetti

Cook the spaghetti in boiling water following the instructions on the box. Cut the broccolini into bite size pieces and steam for 2-3 minutes until soft. In a pan, add a good drizzle of oilve oil and the garlic. Start up the heat on medium low to gently infuse the flavor of the garlic in the oil without burning the garlic. After about 3 minutes, add the sausage (that has been taken out of its casing) and break up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon. The meat will start to cook and change color. Once the meat has just changed color toss in the broccolini and saute on higher heat. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and leave to reduce. Drain the pasta (but not excessively as some startch in the cooking water will help the sauce to bind together). Add the pasta to the pan, saute and adjust seasoning. Add the chili flakes, parmesan flakes and serve. Enjoy!
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