Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Spanish Fish with Peppers, Olives, and Pine Nuts: a Tapa

I recognize that I have relatively few seafood recipes in my blog. In part, that's because while I enjoy seafood, I am not passionate about it. I also live some distance from the ocean, and have less access to really fresh fish. I was spoiled living in Southeast Asia, where seafood was plentiful and the populations were so fussy about fish and shellfish that they demanded truly fresh stuff. In Chinese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur they would not even allow you to order a steamed fish unless it was fresh caught; fried with garlic or salted black bean or chilies they would do, if it was not bad, but not steamed.

Thus most of my seafood dishes are for things that transport well, like farmed salmon, smoked salmon, and frozen shrimp. Trust me, if I'm at the coast, I will cook fresh seafood. Tilapia, bought frozen and thawed shortly before cooking actually works fairly well for some of my dishes. The following recipe shows one.

This gorgeous and deceptively easy-to-prepare dish is based on cooking from Valencia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The fish can either be served directly in small dishes as a tapa (appetizer) to accompany cold white wine, or (with a chopped hard-boiled egg and a little extra salt added) as the filling for a fried or baked turnover, or “empanadilla”. The recipe serves six as a tapa.

White wines go with this, dry crisp whites from Spain, Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand or Australia, or French Muscadet or Sauvignon Blancs.

Spanish Fish with Peppers, Olives, and Pine Nuts Tim

1 pound white fish fillet, such as tilapia, cod, or haddock
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice for the fish plus 1 tablespoon for finishing the dish
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 small to medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 tomato, quartered, seeds pushed out with your finger, and flesh chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley, flat “Italian” style preferred
3 tablespoons drained, coarsely chopped pimento-stuffed (“Spanish”) olives
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine (or water)

Cut the fish into 1-inch squares, mix gently with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt plus the lemon juice, and set aside. Toast the pine nuts in a dry medium-hot frying pan, stirring or shaking constantly. When toasted, pour them into a dish to cool. Prepare the onion, peppers, tomato, garlic, parsley, and olives.

Heat the olive oil to medium high in a heavy non-stick frying pan. Sauté the onions and red and green peppers until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, and stir and fry half a minute. Add the tomato and stir and fry another half minute. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the paprika, and black pepper. Stir to combine, then add the fish, wine, and most of the parsley (reserve a little for garnish). Stir gently and fry just until the fish has turned opaque, so as not to overcook it. Gently stir in the chopped olives and the reserved tablespoon of lemon juice. Remove from the heat and stir in the pine nuts. Taste for salt, and add a little, if needed.

Serve warm in small shallow bowls (as a tapa) or on a small platter. Dust the top with the reserved chopped parsley.

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