Fish and spinach and a sautéed lemon are an awesome trio and I’m here to tell you about their delicious culinary song.
Of all the good food we ate on our recent trip to Italy, my husband proclaims this meal we cooked ourselves while in Venice his favorite. Because we had such amazing seasonal food everywhere we went, I was skeptical. There was a lot of exquisite competition for best meal, exquisitely simple. Olive oil, garlic, clams and pasta; olive oil, prosciutto, peas, parm and pasta; olive oil, asparagus, pecorino and pasta. Fish, spinach lemon and olive oil. You get the picture. There’s an olive oil/pasta cult there that’s hard to avoid, but then who would want to.
He’s devoted to fish and the way to his heart is through a good fish dinner – which is what he cooks when he cooks. Of course he loved Venice, a fish-oriented town if ever there was one, and he loved this meal, as we all did. It began with smallish servings of pasta, followed by the fish with spinach and roasted vegetables, followed by salad, followed by fresh strawberries. A few sips of wine a well. It was truly a memorable feast, prepared in our friends’ tiny but efficient kitchen in their fourth floor Venice apartment.
We bought the fish, two 14-inch or so Branzino, at the morning Rialto fish market where they cleaned them on the spot; at the adjacent fresh produce market we snagged a huge bag of spinach, strawberries, artichokes, bulb fennel, lemons and some of those thick, and I mean thick, white asparagus that Italians go crazy for. On our way back, through the maze of Venice’s walkways and bridges, we accidentally found one of their bulk wine shops where we acquired a litre of the local Pinot Grigio.
We cooked it all up in the tiny kitchen of Bob and Judy’s apartment while sipping the wine. Friends who, over dinner last winter and after a couple of bottles of wine, shellfish and piles of pasta, proposed that we come visit them in Venice in May. Be careful what you ask for, we took them up on it and there we were cooking dinner together in Italy. Something about a couple of whole fish in the pan, golden and crispy, that whets an appetite (and a favorite food memory: my dad’s freshly caught crispy fried trout for breakfast). It all came together as one delicious experience, with the emphasis on friends as the key ingredient.
So here it is, a PNW version of the fish we cooked in Venice, based on meals we had while there. This preparation appeared again in Rome where we, actually he, had fresh anchovies on a bed of steamed chicory.
Fish & spinach w/ a sautéed lemon
Halibut and Alaskan True Cod are on Seafood Watch best choice list here, whereas Red Snapper, which I had thought I would use, is on their avoid list. We’ve fished the snapper and Atlantic cod almost into oblivion. Check the Seafood Watch list before purchasing fish if you’re interested in consuming fish sustainably. There’s even a Seafood Watch IPhone app.
This is enough for two servings. Adjust quantities of ingredients as needed.
The spinach: Wash and rinse a big pile of spinach, 6-8 cups or more – it cooks way down/ In a large pan let a clove of finely chopped garlic sizzle in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil before adding all or most of the still-wet spinach to the pan / It will have a sizzling hissy fit for a moment/ Pop on the lid for a few seconds, turn spinach with tongs, lid back on/ Add remaining spinach when there’s room in the pan/ Let it all steam with the lid on for 3 or 4 minutes/ When the spinach is wilted and tender remove from heat, salt lightly and set aside.
The Dressing: Place 1 t finely minced shallot, 1 t mustard, 1/4 C champagne &/or red wine vinegar, and 1/2 – 2/3 C olive oil together in a glass jar/ Shake it up, it’s done, set aside.
The fish: Halibut or Alaskan True Cod/ The halibut is thick and should be cooked over low – medium heat for a longer period of time/ The cod will cook quickly and will benefit from high heat/ Either way, salt and pepper uncooked fish/ Drizzle 2 T olive oil and 1 T butter into a non-stick sauté pan/ When oil is hot, add the fish/ Sauté cod on medium high heat for 3 – 4 minutes per side, halibut at lower heat for 7 or 8 minutes per side/ Add a piece or two of lemon to the pan, flesh side down, and let it cook along with the fish/ When done the fish flakes apart easily and has lost its translucence. Timing will vary according to thickness of fish. I usually have to check it with a fork.
Trout, which is also on the best choice list would be good too. Like Venice’s Branzino, cook it whole and serve it golden and crispy-skinned atop the spinach.
To serve: Drizzle several tablespoons of dressing on to each plate/Place a serving of spinach on top of the dressing and a serving of fish over the spinach/ Squeeze the sautéed, deliciously caramelized lemon over it all.
Bon Appetito PNW style.