Cooking - A Taste of the Mediterranean
Bringing the Italian Seaside Home
by Roy Creekmore
DURING A RECENT TRIP TO THE MEDITERRANEAN, I had the opportunity to dine in the village restaurants of Italy, France, Greece and Croatia. In each of the towns I visited, I tried to sample food native to and typical of the particular region. I ate fresh vegetables and fruits in Provence, sampled wines and spirits in Croatia and Greece and had croissants and delicious artisan breads in Italy and France. At a few seaside bistros, I tasted some of the freshest seafood possible-literally watching the fishing boats come in and out of the harbors as I ate.
While most of this fresh food was very good, one meal in particular stands out. I discovered it in a small Italian town perched on the side of steep mountains that seemed to drop straight down into unbelievably blue water. The view from the terrace of the restaurant alone was worth my whole trip, but the meal I had made it even better. The menu said the fish of the day was fresh halibut cooked "Mediterranean style." I asked the waiter what "Mediterranean style" meant, but was unable to get an explanation beyond "very good, very fresh" and "you will like it very much."
The dish turned out to be a wonderful piece of fresh halibut cooked in a small amount of aromatic vegetable-and-herb broth and topped with chopped olives and fresh tomatoes. A small amount of olive oil was added to hold together the mixture, which was then piled high on top of the halibut, baked to perfection and broiled slightly to brown the top and form a light crust. Served with fresh asparagus and roasted potatoes, crusty fresh-baked bread and a bottle of chilled dry Rosé wine, the meal was the epitome of Mediterranean dining. It was a complete and fabulous experience that I had to recreate as best I could when I returned home.
The recipe that follows is my version of that unforgettable meal. The ingredients I use are as close to authentic as I can find here in California. While I recommend using halibut, you can substitute salmon or any firm white fish. You can also use any type of olives, though I like oil-cured black olives and brine-cured green Lucques. Try this recipe, and see if it doesn't take you to a sunny seaside in Italy.
MEDITERRANEAN-STYLE HALIBUT1/2 cup seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped olives, preferably a mixture of black and green
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 pieces halibut, 4-6 ounces each
1 medium fennel bulb, fronds removed and bulb sliced thin
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs parsley
1 clove garlic, peeled but left whole
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Italian-style breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes and olives together with half of the olive oil and set aside.
Rub the rest of the olive oil on both sides of the fish, then sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper.
Put the sliced fennel bulb in an ovenproof sauté pan or a deep skillet and add the wine, water, herbs, garlic, onion and peppercorns.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half-you should have no more than an inch or two of liquid in the pan with the aromatic vegetables.
Place the fish in the pan on top of the softened vegetables, and then put the tomato/olive mixture on top of the fish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes until the fish is done, then place the dish under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until the top begins to brown. Serve immediately. The recipe feeds four to six people.