Well, March has finally arrived, and, with it, the faint glimmer of spring.
This is also the season of Lent. Those who abstain from meat during this time might be looking for easy-to-prepare, meatless meals.
When I was a child, Lenten meals at my family home usually elicited groans from my corner of the table. Common fare included big bowls of lentils with olive oil (just olive oil); chickpeas with elbow macaroni; occasional tuna salad, which my father hated; and fried flounder, which usually ended up in little pieces because it stuck to the skillet (no Teflon back then).
So, in my search for some interesting fish dishes for Lent, I turned to renowned Italian chef, cookbook author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich. Lidia has a rather endearing little cookbook out there, “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking,” which approaches cooking as a way to nurture bonds between friends and family. In it, she also stresses easy-to-make dishes, cooking with seasonal ingredients, and never wasting any food in your kitchen. I’m sure my mother would have liked its emphasis on Italian greens, vegetables and beans. Lots of beans!
Armed with a pound of cod and not much in the way of an idea beyond butter, lemon and perhaps a few capers, I found Lidia’s recipe, “Codfish with Olives and Zucchini.” It was incredibly easy to make and actually enjoyed by my often fish-wary spouse.
But what I liked best was how adaptable this recipe was. While putting it together, I kept thinking of all the possible combinations of fish and vegetables that would work. And though you can add some rice to your dinner, the majority of it is made in one pan.
CODFISH WITH OLIVES AND ZUCCHINI (recipe can be cut in half)
• 6 thick pieces skinless cod fillet
• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1½ teaspoons kosher salt (optional)
• 2 cups whole cherry tomatoes (I used a mix of red, yellow and orange)
• 8 ounces medium zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch half moons
• ½ cup mixed pitted olives, cut in half
• ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
• Place the cod on a plate and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Lightly salt. (I’m very careful with the salt because of the saltiness of the olives.)
• In a medium bowl, toss the cherry tomatoes, zucchini, olives and basil with the remaining olive oil and a little salt.
• Spread the seasoned vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. (Using PAM first is helpful.)
• Roast the vegetables on the bottom rack of the oven until they just begin to soften, about 15 minutes (watch carefully).
• Nestle the cod in the vegetables and roast in the center of the oven until the fish is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remember to judge cooking times with the thickness of your fish.
Place the fish on plates and arrange the vegetable mixture around and a little on top of the fish. Serve with a little rice, small new potatoes or even just garlic bread. The presentation of this dish is lovely. It’s good enough for company.
I’m already planning on some different combinations:
• Roasted salmon filets on a bed of sliced fennel, sliced artichoke hearts and halved, tiny red potatoes
• Roasted halibut steaks on a bed of sliced sweet onion and sliced red, green and yellow peppers
• Thick flounder filets with sliced onion, sliced mushrooms and capers
As a matter of full disclosure, I served my sons Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks when they were little boys. What was I thinking? These fish dishes are so much better! Try them this Lenten season and all through the year.