Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent and, as a Catholic, I welcome this opportunity for reflection, atonement and spiritual growth.
In my childhood I viewed this season only through the lens of sacrifice, a somber time where we were expected to give up something we loved for the 46 days of Lent, in addition to not eating meat on Fridays.
Now, as an adult and a mother, I appreciate this time as an invitation to slow down and take stock of my values and priorities, to set new intentions (which may or may not include giving up chocolate) and to reconnect to my faith on a deeper level through serving others.
Every year, the weekly observance of fasting on Fridays gives our family an opportunity to experience a Lenten sacrifice together, and we also enjoy creating new and interesting recipes along the way. This week's featured recipe, Pesce (fish) alla Puttanesca, has become a Lenten favorite.
Puttanesca is a southern Italian specialty sauce with a colorful background which, since it is Lent, I'll let you discover on your own. Suffice it to say this is a poor woman's dish that can be quickly made from traditional Italian pantry staples like garlic, canned tomatoes, capers, anchovies and olives.
Chunky by nature, Puttanesca is commonly served with a long-noodle pasta like spaghetti or linguine, but the briny nature of the anchovies and capers also makes it an excellent pairing with fish, particularly a flaky white fish like catfish, tilapia or cod.
This is a very quick and easy dish to make, especially if you take the time to assemble your mise-en-place beforehand. Mise-en-place is the culinary term for putting everything "in its place," which means measuring out and preparing all of the ingredients before you get started. If you follow this practice, you can have this dinner made and plated in about 30 to 40 minutes, tops.
You could serve the fish over a bed of pasta, and top it all with the Puttanesca sauce, but for Ash Wednesday I wanted a lighter alternative so I've chosen to serve the fish over a bed of lightly sautéed fresh spinach. A simple choice, but one that added even more color and flavor to this dish.
Pesce alla Puttanesca is an easy, flavorful, meatless meal, whether you serve it on Ash Wednesday, Lenten Fridays, Meatless Mondays or an ordinary Tuesday.
Regardless of your faith or beliefs, we wish you peace this Lenten season.
Pesce alla Puttanesca
Serves: 4 to 6
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 white fish fillets (catfish, tilapia, cod, walleye), about 2 pounds
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
For the sauce:
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 anchovies in oil, minced into a paste
½ cup dry white wine, optional
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, juice reserved
¾ cup large green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
¼ cup capers, drained and rinsed
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Lightly salt and pepper each fish fillet on both sides. Spread the flour evenly in a dish large enough for the fish fillets and dredge each fillet in the flour until fully coated, shaking off any excess flour.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan/skillet over medium to medium-high heat, and add the fish to the pan, working in two batches. Cook until the outside is golden brown and inside is cooked through and flaky, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Once cooked, remove from pan and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
In the same pan, over medium-low heat, add the garlic, anchovies and shallot and cook until soft, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Add the white wine and cook over medium heat until the liquid has reduced, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, crushing them by hand into the sauce and reserving the juice in the can. Stir in the olives, capers and red pepper flakes and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 8 to 10 minutes. If the sauce appears too thick, add some of the reserved tomato juice as needed.
Just before serving, stir in the fresh parsley and lemon juice, taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
To serve, transfer the fish to a serving platter or plates and generously spoon the sauce over each fillet. For a side dish, lay the fish over a bed of sautéed spinach or a long-noodle pasta like spaghetti or linguine.
Sarah's Tip: The sauce will keep for several days refrigerated, and leftovers may be used with pasta or as a topping for bruschetta.
Sautéed Spinach Side Dish
1 bag of fresh regular or baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, cut into 3 pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil and garlic in a medium or large frying pan over medium heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle and turn golden, add the spinach and continue cooking over medium heat until the spinach just begins to wilt. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, either on the side or transfer to serving platter and top with Pesce alla Puttanesca.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.
All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.