Sunday, December 18, 2011

Red Snapper Puttanesca (and the Vacation From Hell)

It feels like 100 years since my last post! My apologies, although I do have an awfully good excuse and a story to boot. I recently came back from a trip to visit my sister's family in Oregon, and a visit to my parent's condo in Palm Springs. The first part of the trip went as planned, and as usual my time with Holly, Sam and my adorable niece Claire was far too short. (Except for the 8 back-to-back readings of 10 Little Ladybugs, which I could have done without.) 

Girls in the kitchen- me, Holly, and Claire
As for the second part of the trip...well, it read a little like a movie script for National Lampoon's Palm Springs Vacation (starring Katherine Heigl, the prettier, more famous version of me). The script goes like this: young woman seeks rest and relaxation after a grueling month working multiple weekends at the office. She arrives at her parents recently remodeled and presumably vacant condo, only to discover that someone has clearly been living there. As the drama unfolds, young woman discovers evidence of shady business at the condo. Young woman gathers up her stuff and heads to a hotel. Enter locksmiths, police, confiscation of illegal paraphernalia, cleaning crews, and alarm installation. Just as soon as it appears the worst is over, and the young woman might actually be able to salvage the last few days of her vacation and make it to the fantastic outlet mall 20 miles away, young woman's 86-year-old back goes out. And grounds her. In her hotel room. For the rest of the trip.

But WAIT...the antics don't stop there!  Upon the young woman's return home (hallelujah!), she discovers that the entire contents of her chest freezer are roughly the temperature of luke-warm water. For the young woman, who loves salmon fishing, and uses Costco as her neighborhood grocery store, and gets a thrill out of buying in bulk and freezing things for later use, get the idea.

Sounds like a movie, right? Nope, that was my LIFE. Two weeks I'd rather forget. Although I did scrape together a happy ending with the generosity and kindness of all of my wonderful friends who have lent me a hand while I laid on the couch and watched them work.  Unfortunately, I had planned to work on so many posts from the comfort of a lounge chair next to the pool. Seeing as how I could only tolerate a sitting position for about 4 minutes at a time, that never happened.

As my back is nearly recovered from the trauma of vacation, I finally have an opportunity to post a delicious recipe that Holly and I made before the Vacation From Hell really began.  It's a recipe for Red Snapper Puttanesca inspired from a recipe for Cod Puttanesca in the wonderful cookbook Mother's Best, which is a collection of recipes from the woman behind Mother's Bistro in Portland (not to be missed!). It's also one of the best birthday presents my sister has ever given me.  This is a great healthy meal to make around the holidays when friends, family, and coworkers are shoving Mexican wedding cakes, homemade fudge, and peanut brittle in your face.

Puttanesca sauces are bold and delicious- full of tomatoes, capers, and olives. The word "puttanesca" roughly translates in Italian to "ladies of the night." Apparently, those ladies don't have a lot of time on their hands to shop at the grocery store, so they throw together sauces from pantry staples. Whether that's true or not is irrelevant. I just like the word "puttanesca." It's got a ring to it.  Say it over and over and you'll see what I mean.

Holly and I traveled to her local fish market and found some beautiful pieces of red snapper, but you could also use cod or halibut- any mild fish will do.  Just make sure you work with a thin fillet. If it's thick (as often halibut is) then you might have to finish the fish in the oven after browning on both sides to ensure that it's done, or slice the fillet in two.  Salt and pepper both sides of the fish, then dredge in the flour and shake off all the excess.  Saute in olive oil until golden brown, or about 3 minutes each side (don't overcook them!  Nothing tastes worse than overcooked fish).  I did this in batches so that I didn't overcrowd the pan, so I periodically added more olive oil as needed.

When the fish is done, put them on a baking dish and keep them in the warm oven until you're ready to serve.  In the meantime, using the same saute pan (you might need to add a little more olive oil) cook the garlic for about 30 second or so until it's just brown (overcooking garlic makes it taste bitter).  Add the tomatoes and a few grinds of pepper and cook for about 2 more minutes. 

Add the olives, capers, wine, and chopped parsley.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce is slightly reduced.  At this point, taste for seasoning.  My capers were so salty that I didn't need to add any salt to the sauce!

Remove the pan from the heat and, if you want, add the butter (this really adds richness to the sauce, but is not necessary if you'd rather leave it out).  Remove the fish from the oven and you're ready to eat!  I like to serve this family-style, so I piled the fish on a serving platter and spooned sauce over the top.

Top it with chopped fresh parsley and you've got yourself a beautiful dinner.  If you have extra sauce, put it in a bowl on the table for folks to spoon on themselves (it was so good I just started eating it with a spoon).  I loved this dish, and I think next time I'll try adding some anchovies and red pepper to the sauce for added flavor and kick. 

Serve this dish with rice or orzo pasta and sauteed spinach.  Delicious and healthy holiday fare!

Red Snapper Puttanesca
(adapted from Mother's Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again)

4 (6-ounce) red snapper or cod fillets (about 1½ pounds)
1¼ cup flour
3 T.(or more) olive oil
1½ cups good-quality diced or chopped canned tomatoes (or two medium diced fresh tomatoes if they're in season)
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup pitted kalamata or niçoise olives
2 T. capers, drained and rinsed
¼ cup white wine (I used pinot grigio)
2 T. butter (optional)

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Orzo and sautéed spinach, for serving

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the fillets.  Place saute pan over medium heat and add olive oil.  Dredge fillets in flour, making sure to shake off the excess.  Place in saute pan and cook to a golden brown, about 3 minutes each side being careful not to overcook them.  (If your fillets are on the larger side, do this in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan.  Just add a little more olive oil each time you cook a new batch.)

When the fish is done, place on an oven-safe baking dish and keep warm in the oven.

Add garlic to the pan (you may have to add a little more olive oil) and saute for about 30 seconds, or until it's just brown.  Add tomatoes and a few grinds of pepper and cook for about two minutes more.  Add capers, olives, white wine, and parsley (reserving a little for garnish).  Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for several more minutes, or until the sauce has reduced a bit.  Once it's done, remove from the heat and stir in the butter.

Check for seasoning- capers and olives are often very salty, so you may not need any salt.  Remove fish from the oven, top with the sauce and a little more parsley.  Put leftover sauce in a bowl for the table.  Serve with rice or orzo pasta and a side of sauteed spinach. 

Enjoy!  xo H

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