Saving the Best for Last

John's salad

John and Cyndi Welsh’s Salad – tomatoes from their garden

 (Note:  There is a slight format change – menus and pictures are below this note (they used to be above) – recipes for “keepers” of the week follow the menus)

If you cook regularly, you will, unless you are superhuman, run into weeks when cooking is not a pleasure but a task.  Oh, you still fulfill your duty – you feed your family.  But you are no more excited by the act of cooking than you are by taking out the garbage.  You’re just going through the motions.

That would pretty well describe last week for us.  The food wasn’t bad.  In fact, the Turkey Chili and the pasta were superior.  As for the politically and dietetically incorrect chicken-fried steak with queso gravy, it was just what we needed in the middle of a work-week.  And then we got lazy on Friday and, dining by ourselves, had just the appetizer we’d planned – seared tuna.  Well, there was wine and gin, as well.  Our doctors have strongly advised continuous hydration.

But on Saturday, Rosie’s great party for Peter and Abby, brought us out of the doldrums.  Rosie’s crab cakes were spectacular, her roast beef was cooked perfectly, and those retro- meatballs were irresistible.  (I’m exaggerating – I was able to resist after eating my 64th meatball.)  And the crowd of young and old was just what we needed to remind us that cooking is not just a task, it’s gift to yourself and others.

So at last, on Sunday, after a long and just-barely successful Steelers game, we cooked by far the best meal of the week barring Rosie’s.  Pan-fried halibut with roasted tomato sauce is a recipe you really need to cook.  The roasted tomato sauce alone, is a taste for the ages.  It would be good on corrugated steel.  Trust me on this – but beware, once your family gets a taste of this, you won’t be able to make enough.

September 4 – September 10, 2017

Monday:              Dinner at Atria’s.  Good crab cakes and fish tacos, but too much food and too loud

chili

Tuesday:              Caprese Salad and Turkey Chili

pasta

Wednesday:      Pasta with Walnut Pesto, Green Salad

steak

Thursday:            Chicken Fried Steak with Queso Gravy / Green Salad

tuna

Friday:                  Seared Tuna

Peter and Abby

Abby (left) and Peter (right) with Aunt Rosie

Saturday:             Rosie’s Party ( great crab cakes and roast-beef and not-to-be-resisted meatballs)

fish

Sunday:                Pan-fried Halibut with Roasted Tomato Sauce / Green Salad / App of Guacamole

Pan-Fried Fish Fillets with Roasted Tomato Sauce

(adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Every Day)

fish with sauce

This makes for a spectacular dinner.  Serve it with a green salad and some roasted or boiled potatoes and you’ll want to grow your own tomatoes and start your own fish farm to make sure you always have the main ingredients on hand.  The sauce would work for steak, veal or roasted chicken or be a nice topping for an omelet or frittata.  And I’ll be trying it on pasta in the near future.

Timing:

The tomato sauce takes about 90 minutes, but you can make it ahead (even a day ahead), and cooking the fish takes about 10 minutes.

Ingredients:                                                       Feeds 4

4 fish fillets (you want a firm white fish for this recipe – halibut is ideal, cod works and tilapia is good, as well as easy to find)
Plate full of well-seasoned flour, to dredge the fish
2 tablespoons of light, neutral oil (sunflower, grapeseed – canola in a pinch)

For the roasted tomato sauce:

3 lbs. of ripe flavorful tomatoes, halved.  Plum tomatoes are perfect for this.
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (we used 2)
2 or 3 sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf.
Brown sugar (1 heaping teaspoon for every 2 cups of purée you end up with)
1 tablespoon of white wine or cider vinegar (we used champagne vinegar) for every 2 cups of purée
A pinch of mace for every 2 cups of purée  [this is an important ingredient – your sauce will not be great without it]

Make the Tomato Sauce:

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Place tomato halves, cut side up, in a single layer on a large, rimmed cookie sheet or a baking pan.  Scatter the garlic and thyme over them and drizzle the olive oil and season heavily.

Put in oven and roast for 60 minutes or so, until tomatoes are soft and starting to brown.

Put tomatoes, in batches, into a large sieve and rub them through the sieve into a bowl, discarding skins and seeds.

Measure the resulting purée, pour it into a large saucepan and season per the instructions above (1 heaping teaspoon of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of vinegar and a good pinch of mace for every 2 cups of purée).

Bring purée to a simmer and cook gently, stirring frequently, until reduced by one-third to one-half to form a thick, glossy sauce.  (Ours was not so thick because, having only about 2 lbs. of tomatoes, I didn’t end up with much purée.)  Season and adjust with sugar, vinegar.  Set aside.

Cook the fish:

Pour the oil into a large frying pan and place over medium.

Pour 4 – 6 tablespoons of flour onto a plate and season it well with sea salt and pepper.  (Sea salt is much less salty than table salt, so don’t hold back here.)

Just dust the fillets with the flour and shake off any excess, then transfer to the pan, skin side down.  (Even if you have skinless fillets, put the skin-side down).  Sizzle for 4-5 minutes.  (If you have thick halibut fillets, go for 5.)  You want a crisp, browned skin-side.

Turn fillets and cook for 1 or 2 minutes longer.

Spoon the roasted tomato sauce onto warmed plates, place the fish on the plates and serve.

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