Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Oh hello. Did I blind you? Have you recovered from the ugliness of this picture of my dinner the other night? I know. It's a bit of a leap, asking you to consider making this based on your first impression, which is undoubtedly a little...unfavourable?
Would it help if I told you it was really, really good? If I used adjectives like 'earthy' and 'fragrant' and 'flavourful', would that persuade you a little? It's all good stuff in there. It's just that I wasn't able to capture the inner beauty of this meal in a photograph.
My landlord lives downstairs from us; he loves to cook. I come home from work everyday and the smells wafting from his door entice and inspire me and make my mouth water as I try to deduce what he's making. He and I have discussed the art of cooking on several occasions, and the one thing he said that has really stuck with me is that if you're preparing a meal, you must feel good about it and do it with love. My first response to that was an internal eye-roll; cook with love? What? How do you even quantify that? How much love is enough? Will the love tell me when the meat is ready? Will the love tell me whether the soup needs more cumin?
But when I thought about it a bit longer, my skepticism faded and I recognized the value of his advice. Often, when I set to cooking, it's at the end of a long day. I'm rushed, I'm hungry, I feel like the day is getting away from me. Consequently, I don't enjoy the chopping and dicing and seasoning and sauteing as much as I could. All the motions are there, but where's the love? Where's that feeling that I'm involved in something really cool? Maybe if I just slowed down and really opened myself to the experience, my food might turn out better and wouldn't have that slight aftertaste of 'frantic'.
So the other night, I set to doing just that; allowing the love to join me in the kitchen. I had a bunch of mushrooms that were on their way to the compost in another day or so, and I decided to throw a few things together that I knew I liked; canned diced tomatoes, onions, garlic; a simple sort of tomato sauce that I wanted to bake some white fish in. I poured a glass of wine, turned on some classical music and took a deep breath. I forgot about the long day I'd had and completely surrendered myself to the magic of food. As my ingredients came together and bubbled in the pot, I felt it; that love my landlord had been talking about. It wasn't some mystical element that told me what to put in the dish. It was the thing that put me in the moment, that engaged me with tastes, smells and ideas and made me trust what I was doing.
So here, without further ado, is the ugliest, tastiest thing I've made in a long time. I made the sauce the day before, but you could certainly make this all in one day. It would be much quicker to use fresh fish, but all I had was frozen which increased the baking time a lot!
Simple Tomato Sauce With White Fish:
1 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 big clove of garlic, finely diced
1 package of white mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (mine were lightly seasoned with oregano and basil; you could add some if you like)
salt and pepper to taste
1 large frozen or 2 fresh fillets of cod, haddock, sole or monkfish
1. Preheat oven to 350° F
2. In a large pot, heat up the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook till onions are soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes.
3. Add in the mushrooms and red wine and allow to come to a boil. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, or till really fragrant and some of the wine has been cooked off.
4.Turning the heat down a little, add the tomatoes and simmer for about 30-40 minutes; the sauce should thicken a bit as some of the liquid boils off.
5. Put a layer of the sauce in a baking pan/oven-safe pot/dutch oven and then add the fish. Put the remaining sauce on top of the fillets and cover.
6. As I'd mentioned, I used frozen fish, which took about 45-50 minutes to bake. Next time, I'll use fresh fish, which, by my estimation, should take about 20 minutes; make sure to check on it and when the fish flakes easily with a fork, it should be cooked through.