Recent micro events have brought me to a relieving conclusion; that the best things are always the simplest. It’s a comforting thought, and simultaneously humbling. Comforting for having the burden lifted from my shoulders to build lavish works of strenuous complexity. Humbling in that all my efforts are as dust next to that which has already been created.
Yes, richly spiced chilis and extravagant fruitcakes are, at most, enjoyable. Should I have these day after day, surely their place in my heart would wither and rot to a certain disdain. On the contrary, bare basics grow on me as time unfurls. An apple a day keeps the doctor away – not only does simplicity last, it is also sustains. My philosophy agrees that food had been created to be enjoyable, balanced, and whole. Just keep it clean!
I’m working my way towards simplicity – the sort that mimes a pristine film of complexity, and stands confident in what it is. That nothing within the white border of the plate is misplaced. That every component is placed for a purpose.
It’s a word that focuses the speaker into such intensity that becomes a whisper; a word whose core physically pulls one in to listen to its very sound.
I want to cook like that. Here’s my first attempt: a piece of wild pacific snapper baked under a black olive crust, served with a sweet spinach cream and wine-steamed zucchini.
Ingredients for the spinach puree:
1 bunch (4 packed cups) spinach, torn
2 scallions, chopped
3 tbsp light coconut milk, as needed to achieve desired consistency.
1 heaping tbsp sour cream 14% M.F.
3/4 tsp honey
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp sea salt, just pinch
First, make the spinach puree. Put the spinach ad scallions in a pan and add 3 tbsp water. Cover and cook until very soft, stirring occasionally. Let cool and drain (no need to squeeze). Put the wilted greens in a blender with the remaining ingredients and puree until very smooth. Check the seasoning, cover, and chill until needed.
Ingredients for the baked snapper:
2 small shallots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2/3 cup drained black olives
generous handful of roasted pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 skinless wild snapper fillets, carefully trimmed
1 tsp corn starch
1 small zucchini, cut into sticks
small handful of fresh sage
1/3 cup dry white wine
To make the snapper, preheat the oven to 415 degrees F with the rack positioned in the middle. Brush a casserole dish with olive oil. Using a food processor, pulse the shallots, garlic, olives, and pine nuts until minced. With the motor running, slowly tip in the olive oil until a coarse paste forms. Season well.
Pat the snapper fillets dry with paper towel. Put the skinless skin-side down, then dust the top side with cornstarch, rubbing it in. This will help the tapenade cling to the fish’s surface. Spread the tapenade over the fish, then place the fish, with the zucchini and sage arranged around it, in the casserole dish. Pour the wine down the sides of the dish, then cover loosely with foil.
Bake for 18 minutes, uncover, then broil for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the crust crisps up.
Additional components suggested for plating:
sauteed spinach, gently squeezed of excess moisture
extra virgin olive oil
Spread the spinach puree in a circular motion onto a clean (preferably white) plate. Place an elongated mound of spinach on one half of the plate, then gently lift the snapper with a spatula to place on the spinach mound. Arrange several pieces of zucchini on the other half of the plate, to balance, then drizzle artistically with olive oil.