I really miss the English language version of La Cucina Italiana. Does anybody else out there feel the same way?
It was the one periodical I had found that gave a glimpse into the world of authentic Italian cuisine. I still wade through the Italian language online version, but it just isn’t the same.
One of my favorite features each month was a two-page spotlight on a traditional Italian ingredient. Fennel. Mussels. Artichokes. Saffron. It included a little history of each, its regional uses, and a "recipe."
Recipe is in quotes because the recipes were, in effect, non-recipes. They reminded me of my Gramma's recipe cards: a list of ingredients and little instruction. "Mix ingredients and cook until done."
For today's recipe, the ingredient was saffron. And the list of ingredients included onion, olive oil, tomatoes, fish broth, saffron, and firm white fish. I think the instructions were, "Make a rich broth and poach fish until done."
I’ve enjoyed this recipe for years, experimenting with the proportions every time. Its aromatic broth and beautiful color transports us to the Mediterranean. Here is my more detailed recipe, which I paired with a Château Margüi L'Or des Pierres white wine, from the Côte Varois. You can read more about this wine on the Provence WineZine.
Sea Bass Poached in Tomato-Saffron Broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
12 grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
2 cups shrimp broth (or fish stock or water) *
1 teaspoon saffron threads
salt & pepper
4 6-ounce sea bass fillets **
1 tablespoon snipped chives
Heat the oil in a very large (12" or larger) skillet. Sauté the shallots till clear but not brown. Add the wine and reduce by half ‐‐ about 5 minutes over medium‐low heat. Add the bay leaf, cherry tomatoes and shrimp stock; bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Add the saffron, salt and pepper and simmer 3 minutes. (Can be made 4 hours ahead up to this point. Return to a simmer before adding fish.)
Arrange sea bass fillets in a single layer on top of broth, cover and cook for 2‐3 minutes. Turn fillets, cover and cook 2 more minutes. (Timing will depend on the thickness of your fillets - the fish should flake easily with a fork.)
Divide sea bass fillets among four large, heated soup plates; spoon broth and tomatoes over top. Garnish with chives.
* Whenever I peel raw shrimp, I place all the shells in a resealable bag and keep it in my freezer. In addition to the shrimp shells, I also add pieces of shallot, onion, carrot, celery, and fennel. Then, when I need shrimp stock, I fill a saucepan with frozen shells and vegetables, and add water, a little white wine, salt, peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, and a few sprigs of thyme, and boil it down. For this dish requiring 2 cups of shrimp broth, I use 3 cups of water and reduce it to the 2 cups I need. This ensures the concentration of the flavors. Simply strain and use.
** Grouper - or cabrillo - also works well. This dish requires a firm, white-flesh fish that will hold up to poaching.