23 January 2017

Fish fillets in tomato-fennel sauce

The biggest problem with having too many loves in life is finding the time to fit them all in. Something’s got to give. After nearly three years of trying to fit everything into 24 hours, I’ve finally sorted out my priorities. I hope.

So for now it's about cooking, gardening, reading (currently re-reading all of Terry Pratchett), hopefully some exercising and a determined effort to keep my house clean. I will also very soon return to knitting and sewing and perhaps finally start on the calligraphy, water colours, scrapbooking and paper flowers. And once I get my driver’s licence – which involves finding time for the driving lessons – I’m also hoping to try out clay/pottery. And of course I'll ensure I'm always available for my two kids and one husband. Perhaps I’ll join tennis and swimming lessons with the kids and force the husband to learn some salsa… I know he’ll be very interested if I changed the salsa to crossfit. Not the same though, are they?

Anyway, as part of my “new improved” housewifeness, I’ve been cooking. I hadn’t really stopped cooking but it had become a chore. Something to eat that could be cooked in between doing all that needed doing for that one thing that had been taking over my life. I want to enjoy cooking again, to experiment and to watch my family eat with relish. I don’t want to resent it. I’m rambling.

The following dish was a revelation. It’s the first recipe I’ve tried from a gorgeous old French cookbook I picked up last year at the Clunes Book Festival… The revelation was how similar this is to a very delicious fish curry my mother's always made - she added turmeric and didn’t use stock or vinegar but I do remember a generous splash of lemon juice. I’ll share the Indian version sometime too. I hope you try this and enjoy it as much as my family did – especially my two little girls. You know a recipe is a keeper when kids declare, “This is so yummy Mamma!” J
Fish fillets in tomato-fennel sauce*
Serves 4-6
For the fish:
800g white fish fillet (I used snapper)
Salt and pepper to season
Red chilli powder (optional)
Tomato-fennel sauce:
3 TBS olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
3 spring onions, white and green parts finely chopped
8-9 medium, very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped OR 2 cans of peeled tomatoes (800g)*
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 TBS white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup chicken stock
2 TSP fennel seeds
Bouquet garni made of sage, thyme, lemon thyme, basil and oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 200C.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a big sauce pan and cook the onions and spring onions till soft - take care not to brown them (8-10 mins). Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes; then cover and simmer to soften the tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes start releasing their juice, turn up the heat and cook uncovered till they're completely soft (mashed). Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Put the entire onion-tomato mix in a blender and purée. Do be careful - its a good idea to blend in two  batches and not have your blender jar too full.
  4. Pour the purée back into the saucepan, stir in the vinegar and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Add the stock, fennel, bouquet garni, salt and pepper. Simmer for 20-30 minutes till sauce is somewhat reduced and thickens a bit.
  5. Remove the herbs and taste to check the seasoning's right.
Cooking the fish:
  1. Remove the skin from the fillets and rub them with salt and pepper.
  2. Pour half of the tomato sauce in an ovenproof dish. Arrange the fillets in a single layer on the sauce and cover with the rest of the sauce. Cover with greased baking paper (greased/buttered side down) and bake for 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.
  3. Remove the paper and serve the fish with steamed rice and some leafy salad (I served a simple rocket-cherry tomato-bocconcini salad with a simple olive-oil-balsamic-salt-pepper dressing)
*Adapted from ‘Filet de poisson à provençale Sauce bouillabaisse’ (Fish fillets in bouillabaisse sauce) as appears in Simca’s Cuisine by Simone Beck.