Cioppino with a Twist

I would like to call this recipe a cioppino. Cioppino is a fish stew with a San Francisco pedigree reaching back to the 1800’s. The name is derived from the Italian term ciuppin, which means “to chop.”  It’s believed that the Italian and Portuguese fisherman would chop up leftovers from their daily catch to make this robust and flavorful soup. The reason why I hesitate slightly about labeling it a cioppino is that I have taken a liberty with this recipe that is neither Italian nor Portuguese at all. It’s French.

Wine is a key ingredient in the cioppino stock, and recipes gamely call for white or red, depending on the source. I usually use red wine, however in this recipe I tried white. The result was a lighter, more acidic broth that I felt needed a little oomph. Additional salt and extra pepper helped, as did a spoonful of sugar (which often works wonders in tomato-based stocks and sauces.) Still, something was missing. I looked no further than the fennel I had sautéed with the onion as a base for the stock, and I reached for the Pernod, an anise liqueur, in the back of the pantry. It was a perfect shot. The Pernod coaxed out the licorice flavor of the fennel, adding depth and roundness with subtle anise notes. So here you have it: Cioppino with a French twist.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Ouzo or Pernod
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional)
18 littleneck clams
18 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
6 large sea scallops, about 3/4 pound
2 cooked crabs, legs cracked, flesh removed from bodies
1 pound firm fleshed white fish such as halibut or sea bass, cut in 2 inch chunks

Fresh Italian parsley

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft and onion is translucent without coloring, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant. Stir in tomato paste to combine, and then add the tomatoes, wine, chicken stock, Pernod, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If necessary add a spoonful of sugar. Add clams. Cook, stirring, until they open. (Discard any clams that do not open.) Add shrimp, sea scallops and white fish. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until all of the fish is cooked through. Add crab legs and meat. Simmer to heat through. Serve hot in bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Salmon Chowder with Cauliflower and Spinach

~ Salmon Chowder  with Cauliflower and Spinach ~

If I had to name one East Coast food I miss the most, it would be a good chowder. Chowder speaks New England to me. It speaks of summer with squeaky sandy beaches radiating heat and rainy days in a firelit pub, crowded fishing harbors with clanging boueys and circling seagulls, and the unmistakable smell of the ocean and seaweed suspended in fog. I moved away from New England 20 years ago, and still feel as though it’s in my bones – especially in the summer when I crave a clam or fish chowder. To satisfy this craving, I’ve learned to make my own. There is nothing more confirming that you are not-in-New-England-anymore, than when you order a “chowder”  in different corners of the world that you call your new home. The results can be dismaying. So, long ago I decided to just figure it out myself.

The fish has varied upon location. In Boston, of course, littleneck clams are the star ingredient. In France, I improvised with tiny vongoles, in England I dabbled with smoked cod, and in Denmark I relied on plentiful salmon. And now, in the Bay area, my favorite remains salmon.  The buttery richness of salmon permeates the broth, adding a pleasant and necessary dimension to the creamy soup. For extra smokiness, I might add a little smoked salmon, but simple salmon will do. I’ve been making chowder for so long now, it’s become a staple in our menu rotation and my kids have grown up eating it, wherever we’ve lived.

Salmon Chowder with Cauliflower and Spinach

Serves 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups water
2 medium yukon potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch dice
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower florets
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 pound salmon filet, pin-bones removed, raw or pre-cooked
1 bunch fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add water and whisk to blend the flour. Add the potatoes and cauliflower. Simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in paprika, Tabasco, milk and cream. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat. Add salmon and simmer until fish is cooked through if using raw salmon, or heated through if salmon is pre-cooked. Stir in spinach and briefly cook until bright green in color and wilted, 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and serve immediately.

Sriracha Baked Salmon and Cauliflower

Sriracha Baked Salmon and Cauliflower

Salmon, cauliflower, sriracha and a little parsley.

Salmon, cauliflower and sriracha come together beautifully in this easy
and healthy recipe. The heat of the sriracha is tamed by baking, while it amplifies the flavors of the salmon and cauliflower. It’s delicious as is, or serve it with a dollop of Roasted Pepper and Sriracha Sauce. Can you tell that I love sriracha?

Sriracha Salmon and Cauliflower
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 salmon filet, 1 1/2 – 2 pounds
1 small cauliflower, trimmed, broken into florets
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley for garnish

Roasted Pepper and Sriracha Sauce
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, skinned
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons sriracha
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk olive oil and sriracha together in a small bowl. Arrange salmon in a baking pan. Brush with the sriracha oil.
Slice cauliflower florets in 1/4 inch pieces and place in a bowl. Pour remaining oil over the cauliflower and toss to coat. Scatter the cauliflower around the salmon. Sprinkle salmon and cauliflower with salt and pepper.
Bake in oven until salmon is cooked through, about 30 minutes, depending on thickness of the fish. Garnish with parsley. Serve with Sriracha Roasted Pepper Sauce.

To make the sauce, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl of a food processor. Puree to form a smooth sauce.

Smoked Mackerel Paté with Horseradish and Dill

Smoked Mackerel Paté with Horseradish and Dill

Smoked Mackerel Paté with Horseradish and Dill

In the world of blogging I have discovered that there are certain recipes that are sure-fire winners in terms of traffic. Usually these recipes are familiar crowd pleasers, such as comfort food favorites and baked treats we remember from our childhood. Then there are other recipes which generate less traffic. These are recipes we eat in our home that are inspired by the countries in which we’ve lived and traveled. They are part of my family story and they represent this blog’s voice. Most importantly, while they may be exotic or obscure to some, they are equally delicious.

Smoked Mackerel Paté with Horseradish and Dill is a family favorite with a Scandinavian slant which will fall in the second category for some. It reminds me of the Nordic culture, which I think of as frugal, minimal and tasteful. This recipe is easy and economical to prepare, requiring a short list of readily available ingredients. It’s rich in smoky, salty flavor, smoothed with cream and brightened with lemon and dill. And it’s packed with nutrients – mackerel is an excellent source of Vitamin D, magnesium, selenium and heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. That’s a lot to say about a simple pot of smoked fish mousse. Oh, and I should mention that it’s addictively good. So, go ahead – try it, and let me know what you think.

Smoked Mackerel Paté with Horseradish and Dill

This pate tastes best smeared on country style bread or baguette. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

8 ounces smoked mackerel or trout, skin and any pin bones removed
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus extra for garnish

Baguette slices
Dill sprigs

Combine the mackerel, cream cheese, horseradish, lemon juice and black pepper in bowl of food processor.  Process until the consistency is light and smooth. If too thick, add additional lemon juice. (The pate may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance at this point. Cover and refrigerate.) Before serving, stir in chopped dill. Serve smeared on baguette slices. Sprinkle with fresh horseradish and garnish with extra dill.


Holiday Entertaining: Salmon Gravlax

Holiday Entertaining: Salmon Gravlax

You say Christmas, and I say Gravlax. The holiday season is not complete without executing a recipe for home-cured salmon gravlax. Don’t be daunted. This is an entertainer’s dream. The salmon is easily prepared in advance and stowed in the refrigerator to cure for 2 days. All you need to do is unwrap and remove the spice cure, slice and serve. The results are the essence of Nordic cuisine: minimal and elegant. Fennel, dill and pepper fleck the meltingly soft salmon which tastes of the sea. How can you argue with that?

Gravlax (gravlaks in Danish and Norwegian or gravad lax in Swedish) literally means salmon in a grave or hole.  During the middle ages fisherman would salt salmon and let it ferment by burying it in a hole above high-tide line. Nowadays it’s not necessary to bury salmon in sand, but, rather in salt and sugar and banish it to the refrigerator.  The salmon will cure over several days, during which the salt and sugar will turn into liquid, creating a brine.

Salmon Gravlax

Serves a party.

Salt and sugar are necessary ingredients for curing, while fresh or dried herbs, peppercorns, citrus or spirits are frequently added to the brine for additional flavor. This recipe adds dill, fennel, peppercorns and akavit for flavor and spice. Choose a fish which is very fresh with a firm consistency. I use an Atlantic fish, such as Loch Duart Salmon.

One side of salmon, about 3 pounds (1.5 kg) with skin, pin bones removed
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
10 ounces (350 g) sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup fresh dill sprigs, chopped
1 cup fennel fronds, finely chopped
1/4 cup Akavit or vodka

Lightly toast the peppercorns and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar and finely ground to a powder. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the salt and sugars. Rub the fish all over with the spices mix.

Line a long baking pan or dish with plastic wrap.  Place half of the dill sprigs and half of the fennel fronds over the plastic wrap.  Arrange the salmon, skin-side down on the herbs.  Sprinkle the Akavit over the salmon. Top with the remaining dill and fennel. Cover with additional plastic wrap, sealing the fish.  Place a heavy pan or tray on the fish. Weigh down the pan with cans or bottles.  Refrigerate for 2 to 3 days.

To serve, remove the fish from refrigerator. Remove the plastic wrap. Pour off the collected juices and wipe off excess brine and dill.  Slice diagonally from one corner of the salmon towards the center of the fillet.

Fold a slice of gravlax on toasted brioche bread or white bread.  Squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon juice and smear a spoonful of Honey Dill Mustard on the fish.  Garnish with a dill sprig.

Honey Dill Mustard

1/4 cup honey mustard
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup chopped dill sprigs
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk the mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify.  Stir in the dill, pepper and salt.

Oven Roasted Opah Fish with Provençal Vegetables and Basil Coulis

Opah tf

Lately, Opah filets have been frequenting the fish counter at our local shop. There are many things I like about Opah including its name, which should not be confused with a Greek dance or a celebrity talk show host. Native to the waters of Hawaii, the Opah fish (also known as Moonfish, Kingfish or Sunfish) is striking. It resembles an enormous silver-blue and rose hued sphere with white spots and crimson fins, tail and snout, and it grows to an average of three feet in size. Its flesh is firm and mildly flavored, with a rosy pink color, and, during the cooking process, it will turn white. Happily, Hawaiian Opah is not overfished, which makes it a good substitute for swordfish and halibut. It’s also predictably healthy: rich in fish oil, and a good source of protein, phosphorus, and selenium. You can read more about Opah on Seafood Watch.

This recipe is a healthy, flavorful, and colorful way to serve any firm-fleshed fish, including Opah. At this time of year, peppers are running rampant at our farmers market, so I happened to have a selection of bell, gypsy, and Fresno peppers on hand – but feel free to use sweet bell peppers for this recipe.

Oven Roasted Opah with Provençal Vegetables and Basil Coulis
Serves 4.

4 opah filets, each about 1-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 red or yellow bell peppers, stemmed and seeded, cut in bite-size pieces
2 medium shallots, quartered
1 dry pint grape tomatoes
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
2 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 lemon, plus 4 wedges for serving

Basil Coulis:
1 cup basil leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Lightly season the fish with salt and black pepper. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a rectangular baking dish. Arrange the fish in one layer in the dish, turning to coat in the oil.
3. Combine the garlic, peppers, shallots, tomatoes, olives, thyme, oregano, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes in a large bowl. Add the 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss to coat. Scatter the vegetables around the fish. Squeeze the juice of the lemon half over the fish and vegetables. Transfer to the oven and roast until the fish is just cooked through, about 30 minutes.
4. While fish is baking, prepare the basil coulis: Combine the basil, olive oil, salt, and black pepper in the bowl of a food processor and process to a chunky salsa consistency. If too thick, add additional oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve a looser consistency. Taste for seasoning.
5. To serve, top each filet with a generous spoonful of basil coulis. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Grilled Soy and Mustard Marinated Fish Kebabs

Grilled Soy and Mustard Marinated Fish Kebabs

Fish Kebabs

This weekend we are hosting my husband’s extended family for a dinner. Whenever we visit Denmark we do this at least once. Each time, I try to make food that they may not ordinarily eat but I know they will enjoy. Danish cuisine is simple, reflecting Scandinavian understatement while influenced by long winters and finicky summer weather. As a result, menus are usually limited and repetitive, taking full advantage of fresh food on hand before its fleeting season disappears. When I cook in Denmark, I like to prepare equally simple and seasonal food, while introducing additional flavors, spices and combinations not usually served in Danish homes.

This recipe for Grilled Soy and Mustard Marinated Fish Kebabs is my go-to recipe for grilling fish. It’s easy to make and somewhat unusual with the addition of grated onion, which adds sweetness and texture to the marinade which is rounded out with salty soy sauce and sharp mustard. Simple, fresh and a little different – this will be perfect for the barbeque and entertaining this weekend.

Grilled Soy and Mustard Fish Kebabs

This marinade suits most firm-fleshed fish on the grill, such as swordfish, salmon, halibut, or tuna. Serves 6.

1 medium yellow onion, grated, with juices
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds thick fleshed fish (salmon, halibut, swordfish, tuna) cut in 1 1/2″ chunks
Optional: 1 large red onion, 1 red and 1 yellow pepper, cut in 1 inch pieces
Italian flat leaf parsley for garnish

Pre-soak 12 bamboo skewers in hot water 30 minutes before using.
Combine onion, olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, mustard and pepper in a large bowl; whisk together. Add fish to marinade and toss gently to coat.  Refrigerate at least one hour and up to 3 hours.
Prepare grill for medium-hot heat or broiler. Thread 4 pieces of fish on each skewer, alternating with pepper and onion pieces if using. Discard marinade. Grill over direct heat, turning, until fish is charred and just cooked through, about 8 minutes. Arrange on a platter and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Baked Salmon and Kale Wraps with Dill and Harissa

Salmon Kale

Beautiful green Tuscan kale and fresh atlantic salmon from the market along with deliriously happy dill growing in the garden were the inspiration for this recipe. The salmon fillets are wrapped in kale leaves with a little lemon and dill and then baked on a bed of more dill. To top off the salmon, a spoonful of homemade Harissa is added as a garnish. This dish is simple, fresh, delicious and healthy.

Salmon Kale Baked

Baked Salmon and Kale Wraps with Dill and Harissa
Other herbs or a combination may be substituted for dill; try parsley, mint or coriander. Fennel is another good substitute. Makes 8.

8 large kale leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large bunch dill sprigs with stems
1 lemon
4 thick salmon fillets, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
Harissa (or sriracha)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add kale leaves, and blanch briefly, 15 seconds. Transfer to ice water to cool. Drain and dry thoroughly on a kitchen towel.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat bottom of a baking pan with olive oil. Select 8 large dill sprigs without stems and set aside. Scatter remaining dill sprigs with stems over bottom of pan.
Cut lemon in half. Set one half aside. Remove the skin, pith and pits from the remaining half and cut in 4 slices. Cut each slice in half so there are 8 segments.
Brush salmon filets with olive oil. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Top each filet half with a dill sprig and lemon slice. Place salmon on kale leaf. Wrap leave around salmon and place on dill in baking pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining salmon and kale. Brush Salmon and Kale wraps with olive oil. Squeeze the reserved lemon half over each wrap. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
Bake in preheated 350 oven until salmon is cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Garnish salmon with a spoonful of harissa. Serve with rice and additional sauce on the side.

Baked Salmon with Baby Fennel, Mustard and Tarragon

Salmon Fennel tf

I love it when I can go to the farmer’s market on a Sunday and come home with …. fish. And not just any fish, but fresh-off-the-boat fish that tastes of the sea. Call me provincial European or mentally land-locked, but fresh fish on a Sunday?  At a Farmer’s Market?

Mind you, this is no ordinary farmer’s market. The San Rafael Farmer’s Market is one of the largest open air markets in California.  Each Sunday, farmers, purveyors and artisans gather in the shadow of the Marin County Civic Center, a stunning Frank Lloyd Wright construction, and sell their goods. Open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. you can easily pack a full day into several hours. Arrive early before the crowds, and enjoy a cappuccino or latte with an authentic Belgian Waffle or flaky French croissant. Then wander through the stalls and purchase seasonal vegetables and fruit, local cheese, meat and, of course, fish. It’s easy to overload on purchases and nibbles, freely offered throughout the market. Feeling tired? Take a break and listen to live music and enjoy a mid-morning snack of dim sum or artisanal pastry. Kids antsy? Give them a pony ride or a jump on a bouncy castle. If that’s worked up another appetite, finish with pizza or grilled organic sausages, falafel or panini. Then head home with your goodies, and plan your dinner.

Dinner on Sunday is always fun. Inspired by our purchases, a meal is created, usually simple, always seasonal and fresh. Which brings me to the fish. In the past 2 weeks we have twice been served gorgeous salmon filets by friends who have also been to the farmer’s market. Each time it has been so delicious and fresh that this Sunday we craved more and made a beeline for the fish stall. The salmon we purchased was so pristine, I didn’t even want to grill it and introduce any charred flavor to its buttery flesh. When we came home, I decided to marinate and bake it with fresh tarragon and baby fennel, which I also bought at the market. So, yes, we can get fresh fish at the Sunday Farmer’s Market. And, yes, we are very lucky.

Baked Salmon with Fennel, Mustard and Tarragon

The licorice flavors of the tarragon and fennel combine beautifully with fresh salmon in this easy and elegant spring dish. This recipe can easily be expanded to feed a crowd. Serves 4-5.

1 garlic clove
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 pounds salmon filets, pin bones removed
2 to 3 baby fennel, bulbs thinly sliced

Smash the garlic clove with the salt in a mortar with a pestle. Add the tarragon and bruise with the pestle. Whisk in the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, zest and a small bunch of the reserved fennel fronds. Arrange salmon filets in one layer in a baking dish. Place fennel halves around the salmon. Pour the tarragon oil over the fish and fennel and spread to cover evenly. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours. Remove from refrigerator 20 minutes before baking. Bake in a preheated 350 F. (180 C.) oven until fish is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Spicy Halibut Stew with Chorizo and Kale

Spicy Halibut Stew with Chorizo and Kale

Halibut STew

I was tempted to make a fish chowder last night. Nothing beats a rich and creamy chowder on a rainy day. However, when I opened my refrigerator a bag of kale fell out.  It’s curly leaves were bursting out of the plastic demanding attention. Obligingly, I started to think of other possibilities.  A container of chicken stock was sitting squarely on the middle shelf, patiently waiting to be put to use, and I decided to change course. Instead of chowder, I would make a lighter stew with the fresh halibut I had purchased in the morning. I wanted a smoky component to lend depth to the flavor of the soup, so I fished a chorizo sausage from the meat drawer. I would also add chunks of potato that would complement the sturdy greens. The result? Satisfying, rustic dinner in a bowl:

Spicy Halibut Stew with Chorizo and Kale

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, ends and fronds trimmed, chopped
8 oz. spicy chorizo, cut in 1/2″ slices
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, cut in 1/2″ cubes
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 lb. kale, ends trimmed, washed, coarsely chopped
1 lb. halibut filet or other firm fleshed white fish, cut in 1″ pieces
Flat leaf parsley for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, one minute. Add fennel and chorizo and continue cooking, stirring, until onion is translucent and fennel begins to soften. Add potatoes, thyme, oregano, salt and bay leaf and toss to coat in the oil.  Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are nearly tender.  Stir in kale and cook until leaves brighten and stalks soften, about 3 minutes.  Add halibut and carefully submerge in stock. Gently cook over medium heat until fish is just cooked through.  Add extra salt if necessary. Remove from heat. Serve in warm soup bowls garnished with parsley sprigs and freshly ground black pepper.