Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You May Want Your Own Tagine for This One

Today, like many days, was spent more in the kitchen and garden than in any other place or pursuit. The kind of day that just thrills me. There have been so, so many of those days recently and I realize that I haven't been documenting them much, but tonight I'm here to change that.

You see, tonight I tried out a recipe that my dear friend Ari (amazing chef and musician) passed along to me, along with her adaptations, that she'd found via the SF Chronicle. I added a small adaptation of my own, popped it into the oven and waited with great anticipation while out in the garden planting a new batch of lettuces, greens and herbs. And when that timer went off and it was time to take it out of the oven, and more importantly, when it was time to eat it, I couldn't get over how wonderful it was. I served it with a quinoa pilaf I made that was inspired by the cous cous recipe in this posting, and all told, it was one of the finer meals I've made so far this year. Too good not to share.

And so here I am, sharing.

Original recipe says to use "halibut, true cod or any other firm fish". I used a couple of swordfish steaks that together equaled about a pound. The original recipe calls for only about a 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes, but Ari suggested using more, and so I did - and since I had them, I added some preserved lemons too. Ari suggested making some extra chermoula sauce cause it's so damn good, and using canned artichoke hearts instead of futzing with fresh ones, which I happily did, because I just so happened to have a can of them sitting on the shelf, which is what inspired me to attempt this recipe in the first place. Lastly, my little mister isn't a fan of the cilantro, so I used much more parsley and much less cilantro, and no one was any the wiser!

The tagine calls for a chermoula sauce which, besides adding incredible depth of flavor, adds moisture to the dish and helps all the ingredients to come out juicy, tender and so very succulent. Instead of using the extra sauce for dipping, as Ari suggested, I used it to flavor the quinoa pilaf.

Fish Tagine with Olives, Potatoes and Artichokes, with Quinoa Pilaf:

For the Sauce:

1 1/2 cups parsley leaves
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 small yellow onion
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 t. paprika
1/2 t. cumin
1/4 t. cinnamon

For the Tagine:

2 halibut, swordfish, true cod or sea bass or other firm-fish steaks, about 1 pound total, and ideally about 3/4 inch thick
1 can artichoke hearts, cut into quarters
2 t. olive oil
2 medium potatoes, sliced very thin
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
16 oil cured black olives
1 to 2 cups diced tomatoes, with their juices (I used early girls from the farmers market!)
1/4 preserved lemon, diced
chopped parsley & cilantro to taste

For the Pilaf:

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cup water
Chermoula sauce
1 - 2 T. dried cranberries
1/4 preserved lemon, diced
2 scallions, diced
1/4 c. diced parsley & cilantro, in whatever ratio you like
1/4 c. diced green olives

To Make the Sauce:

Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add more olive oil if needed.

Take half the sauce and coat the fish on both sides, and refrigerate the fish for an hour or up to 3 hours.

To assemble the tagine, pre-heat the oven to 350. Smear the olive oil on the bottom of the tagine. Add the potato slices - you should have enough for about 2 layers. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Top with the fish steaks. Scatter the artichokes & olives over & around the fish. Dot with half of the reserved sauce, the tomatoes & their juices, more salt & pepper and a final sprinkling of the chopped herbs.

Put the cover on the tagine & bake for about 1 hour & 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the fish is moist, tender & simply divine.

Since the tagine magically makes a broth that is nothing less than transformative, it's good to have some bread or a pilaf to soak it all up.

To make the quinoa pilaf:

Bring the quinoa, water & chermoula sauce to a boil, along with a bit of salt and the dried cranberries. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed & quinoa is tender. Off the heat, stir in the preserved lemon, scallions, herbs & olives.

To serve:

Spoon some of the quinoa pilaf into a bowl and top with a spoonful of the fish, potatoes, artichokes & broth. Enjoy, savor and enjoy some more!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Garden Joy

On a brighter note, it seems like summer is finally, finally here! There is no end to the amount of thrills I get from going out to the garden every morning and every evening to see what has changed, what new blossom has appeared, what ripening has transpired in the twelve or so hours from when I checked it last. Every morning and every evening feel like Christmas used to feel when I was a kid - such surprise, wonder, delight and gratitude!

Tonight, I discovered the first tomatoes beginning to ripen. The same tomatoes that last night were green. It made my day, made my week, made me delirious with joy to know that the spot we've placed these girls turns out to be sunny enough after all.

And although the radishes we planted from seed a little over a month ago only netted a modest crop, I was and still am so delighted with each and every one of these beauties that I pulled from the dirt tonight.

There was also a questionable meyer lemon tree here when we moved in. We thought it might be diseased and considered cutting it down, but it has turned out to be a wild, lovely, incredible jackpot of fragrant, sweet lemony goodness that is still producing sweet gorgeous fruit, even now. There must be some kind of metaphor in there about how the thorny, hard to understand, imperfect situations bring the most growth and reward, but I'm not sure I'm feeling eloquent enough to put it into words just now.

I still feel like I hardly know what I'm doing, placing seeds in the soil and doing my best, hoping for the best, hoping nature cooperates, crossing my fingers, trying to learn, paying attention as best I can. It doesn't always work out, but it is so gratifying when it does. I'm sure it sounds cliche' but it is no less true: it's a lot like life. Best to enjoy the journey and celebrate and give thanks when it all works out. And tonight, I most certainly am.