Friday, September 21, 2007

Fennel, Fish, and Food-Shopping Forethought: Cod and Arrabiata Over Braised Fennel

(Today’s recipe is a guest post by the lovely and effervescent Rachel, a.k.a. the Cheap Healthy Gourmet, a.k.a. my ex-roommate/hetero life partner. Girl can cook like the dickens.)

Kris and I were roommates for nearly a decade. We whiled away many an evening brainstorming recipes, swooning over Batali, and perfecting Paula Deen impressions. (Don’t ask.) We even made an injury/insult-free Thanksgiving in a 13” x 17” oven—a testament to our enduring friendship.

Kris helped me embrace my love of the kitchen, and it’s since become a thrill to create delicious meals that adhere to CHGD’s standards. (The “D” is for “dairy/casein-free.” Cursed be the food allergies!). So, when I came across this gem, I knew I could make it fit CHGD criteria through two modifications:
  1. Greenmarket Mark-down: Supermarket fennel’s pricey ‘round these parts, and I can often find better, cheaper, locally-grown goods.
  2. Lance the Bass: FreshDirect quotes Chilean sea bass at (shield your eyes!) $25.99/lb. Plus, it seemed like an odd choice for the recipe, which asks one to slather fillets in arrabiata, a.k.a. spicy tomato sauce. Since this would overpower the delicate, buttery bass, it seemed wiser to use a less-expensive alternative that would be improved by a little heat. Enter low-fat, low-cost cod, with its moist, mild flesh and cooperative price tag.
Let’s also take a second to name check two of my favorite pantry items. Give it up for anchovy paste and Better Than Bouillon, both of which appear in this dish. The inexpensive anchovy paste beefs up flavor in soups, sauces, and dressings, adding depth without fat (or actual anchovy flavor. Ew). Then, if you’re out of from-scratch stock, please praise the mighty lord of non-homemade broths and give “Better Than Bouillon” a try.

And now, the drama. Here’s where I goofed: I had a full roster on grocery day, and was stuck with shopping at a store that rhymes with Schmol Schmoods, whose proteins and organics can be overpriced. With a little pre-planning, I could have bought the same fish for half the cost.

In RTFR news, I realized halfway through prep that I could have used pre-existing marinara for the arrabiata instead of buying new tomatoes. Say it with me: duh.

I overspent, but I reminded myself of a Kris mantra: Everyone makes mistakes. Live-in Gentleman and I ate mightily, and we’ll do better next time. In any case, we still read the recipe in the Paula Deen voice, knowing that our pronunciation of “oil” (a.k.a. oa-HULL) would have made Kris proud.

Cod and Arrabiata Over Braised Fennel
Makes two generous entrees or four appetizers
Adapted from Epicurious/Gourmet magazine (March 2003).

1 large fennel/anise bulb, fronds reserved and stalks discarded
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise, one half cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and the other half chopped
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/2 cup fat-free vegetable broth
1 scant teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 (4-5-oz) skinless cod fillets, bones removed
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

1 scant teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes; to taste
1 (14-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice, with hard parts and skin removed, hand-crushed, and juice reserved
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar


Approx. 1 heaping cup of marinara
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes; to taste
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

1) If using, chop 2 tablespoons fennel fronds. Set aside. Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters lengthwise. Cut quarters into slices about 1/4-inch in thickness.

2) Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sliced fennel bulbs, sliced onion, and anchovy paste and cook about 1 minute, stirring the whole time. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in broth and cook covered (a.k.a. braise) for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Veggies should be tender at end.

3) Uncover, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is gone, stirring occasionally. This should take 10 minutes or so. Pour mixture into a shallow glass or ceramic baking dish.

4) Preheat oven to 450°F.

5) While you're waiting for the fennel to cook, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a different nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and cook 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in tomatoes, reserved juice, and vinegar. Simmer until super thick, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6) Place fish on fennel mixture and sprinkle with a little salt. Using a large spoon, top fish with tomato sauce. Then: "Cover with a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake in middle of oven until fish is just cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes." If using, sprinkle with those chopped-up fennel fronds.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
261.7 calories, 6.3 g fat, $3.02

Calculations (Sans Dumbness):
1 large fennel bulb: 73 calories, 0.5 g fat, $1.00
2 (4-5-oz) cod: 189 calories, 1.5 g fat, $3.98
1 medium onion: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.30
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste: 1.3 calories, .1 g fat, $.06
1/2 cup fat-free vegetable broth, 10 calories, 0 g fat, $.08
Hot red pepper flakes: 0 calories, 0 g fat, $.01
1 cup marinara: 159 calories, 4.5 g fat, $.50
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
1 tablespoon kosher salt = negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 scant teaspoon olive oil: 40 calories, 4.7 g fat $0.05
TOTAL: 523.3 calories, 12.6 g fat, $6.04
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 261.7 calories, 6.3 g fat, $3.02

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