Typically my husband will ask late in the afternoon, “So what’s for dinner?” If red meat happens to be the anchor of our meal, his face lights up, but if I mention that fish is on the menu his disappointment is apparent. A devoted carnivore, he adores grilled steaks and chops, savors any form of lamb, and thinks pulled pork should be at the top of the food pyramid.
This week, though, when I served roasted cod fillets topped with a hearty mélange of sautéed fennel and little red and yellow tomatoes, he changed his mind, eating this simply prepared (and I might add quite healthy!) seafood dish with gusto. The colorful fennel and tomato topping, which takes only about 20 minutes to assemble, can be prepared ahead. At serving time all that is necessary is to arrange thick-cut fish fillets in a baking dish, then spoon the garnish over them. In less than a quarter hour the fish is tender, flaky, and ready for the table.
I’ve used both cod and halibut for this recipe with great results, but haddock or other firm white fish are good options too. Saffron-scented rice and blanched sugar snaps made delectable sides at our dinner, but other duos–couscous and asparagus or roasted red skin potatoes and a peppery watercress salad, for instance, would be just as pleasing.
Baked Fish Fillets with Fennel, Tomatoes, and Basil
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra for the baking dish
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (see cooking tip)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 teaspoons lemon juice, divided
1/3 cup halved yellow cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup halved (quartered if large) grape tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cod, halibut, or other firm white firm fillets, 3/4 to 1-inch thick and about 6 ounces each 4 teaspoons chopped basil
4 lemon wedges for garnish
1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Oil a shallow, medium baking dish that will hold the fish comfortably in a single layer.
2. Remove and discard he long lacy stems from the fennel bulbs. Halve bulbs lengthwise, then remove and discard the triangular center core from each half. Chop the fennel to yield to 2 cups. (Slice any extra fennel to use in a salad.)
3. Heat the olive oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the fennel and sauté, stirring, until it has softened slightly, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, lemon zest, and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice. Stir and cook 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tomatoes. Season the mixture generously with salt and with a few grinds of pepper. (Topping can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover loosely and leave at cool room temperature. You can also cover and refrigerate the topping 6 hours ahead; reheat just to warm over medium heat.)
4. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and arrange the fillets in the baking dish. Salt and pepper well, then drizzle each fillet with 1 teaspoon of the remaining lemon juice. Spoon some of the fennel and tomato mixture on top of and around each fillet.
5. Bake until the fish is opaque and flakes easily, 10 to 12 minutes. Watch carefully as the cooking time can vary depending on the thickness of the fillets.
6. Sprinkle each fillet with a teaspoon of chopped basil and serve each with a lemon wedge for squeezing over. Serves 4.
Cooking tip: To crush fennel seeds, use a mortar and a pestle, a spice grinder, or place in a small self-sealing plastic bag, and crush with a rolling pin or meat pounder.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2013Print This Recipe