Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mediterranean Baked Fish

Sorrento, Italian coastline. Courtesy of my hubs
I love all sorts of ethnic food. How cool is it that you can sit in your own kitchen/living room/dining room and enjoy the tastes of Japan, India, Mexico, anywhere really? I know it doesn't make up for not actually being there but unfortunately most of us cannot jet off to Japan when we want authentic sushi or Thailand for really good pad Thai. Although I love the spiciness of real Mexican food and the combination of sweet/salty/sour flavors in many Asian dishes, my favorite region for food is definitely the Mediterranean. I might even say that my everyday food is actually Mediterranean based and everything else stems from there. I say Mediterranean because I don't mean just Italian or Spanish or Greek. But the foods I love most, and the ways of preparing them, come from these countries.
One of my favorite things about the food in Florence when I lived there as an undergrad was how simple everything was but still so incredibly delicious. The key to those dishes, and most things made in that region of the world, is the quality of the ingredients. If you use the very best fresh mozzarella and tomatoes only when they're in season you will get a pizza that is unlike any other. Not to mention those incredibly hot wood burning ovens they use, but that's a different subject altogether. No matter where I ate, in Florence and throughout the Mediterranean, it didn't matter if the restaurant was a tiny cafe with only a bar and a few small tables or a fine dining restaurant with their own wine cellar, everywhere used only fresh, whole ingredients that were in season. The seafood was caught locally, the cheese made by a nearby farm and the herbs were probably picked from the chef's personal garden. Part of this is due to the wonderful climate of the Mediterranean--another reason why I love it, of course. They are blessed with warm temperatures and warm waters that produce great food almost year round.
I don't necessarily want to pack up and move to Italy or Spain--although, believe me, I have definitely thought about it--but I do try to bring some of those flavors and values into my own kitchen. For me, there are few things better than ripe summer tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and hand-picked basil, but only when they are actually in season. Try a caprese salad in the winter with hard, tasteless tomatoes and you'll want to cry. Or I do anyway. My point is, if you take a few simple ingredients and treat them with care, you can almost always produce a delicious meal. Those who live in the Mediterranean have also created some of the perfect combinations of flavors, which I've played with in a number of my recipes. The aforementioned tomato and basil combo is always a great one; as is tomatoes, feta and cucumbers; lemon, basil, and Parmesan is another one (think pesto, yum); and not to leave out the Spanish, what about the delicious salty sweet combo of prosciutto and melon.
I could go on and on. But instead, I will leave you with a super simple fish recipe that is inspired by some Mediterranean flavors and the wonderful value of spending more time eating, drinking good wine and enjoying life than doing dishes. Because everything is wrapped up in foil, all you do is throw it out when you're done, with little to no clean up needed after eating. I used catfish for my baked fish as it was fresh that day but any white fish would work: cod, flounder, grouper. Just adjust the cooking time based on the thickness of the fish.

Mediterranean Baked Fish (serves 4)

  • 4 fish fillets, 4-6 oz each
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 6-8 large basil leaves, torn
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp (or more) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350F.
Tear a large sheet of aluminum foil and lay it on a baking sheet with each side folded up to catch any liquid.
Place each fillet on the foil; they can be touching but don't overlap.
Season each fillet with salt and pepper.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the fillets.
Drain the tomatoes, removing as much of the extra liquid as possible.
Spread them over the fish and add garlic, basil and thyme.
Pour olive oil over everything and season with a bit more salt and pepper.
Tear another large sheet of aluminum foil.
Place it over the fish and seal each edge by tightly folding the aluminum foil.
The baking sheet is to catch any accidental drips but most of the liquid should stay in the foil pouch.
Bake the fish until it is opaque throughout and flakes easily, about 20 minutes for thin catfish and up to 30 or 35 for thicker grouper or cod.
Remove the top layer of foil carefully, discard the garlic cloves and thyme stems.
Serve each fillet with a portion of tomatoes and basil on top.
Garnish with additional chopped basil if desired.

For a printable recipe click here

Mediterranean Baked Catfish

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