Over the summer, I attended my first wedding. (I am twenty-six years old—it was a long time coming.) I am not sorry to say it set the bar quite high for all future nuptial celebrations. For one thing, it was held in the Irish countryside in the flush of summer. We heard mass in an aged church, led by the groom’s Irish-priest uncle. And then there was the party, impossibly posh and lovely, which continued far into the evening.
My mother is fond of saying that wedding food is terrible. “Enjoy the canapés,” she says, “because everything else will be awful.” But this is a false doctrine at 100% of the weddings I’ve attended so far. Yes, hors d’oeuvres were served, along with tall flutes of Cava on the patio (that is, before it started pouring; we were in Ireland after all). But a multi-course dinner (replete with fish forks and wine pairings) followed. And then there was a dessert bar. (Here the details start to get fuzzy. Can you blame me? It would have been a crime to let all that wine go to waste.) At some point I remember giggling with my sister over my parent’s, uh, spirited dancing. Around midnight, they set out fish and chips and other miniature fried things….Let’s just say this was not a wedding for the faint-of-stomach.
Somewhere in there, still early in the meal, I was served a white fish with pistou. Pistou, which translates to “pounded,” is the south of France’s answer to pesto and should be made by hand in a mortar and pestle. It is lighter than traditional Italian pesto, as it excludes pine nuts. I thought it was wonderful against the tender, flaky fish.
What follows is my version. In the depths of February, I find this dish bright and comforting. Time wise, it is easily weeknight-able, assuming you get the vegetables into the oven first thing. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, get one! They only cost ten dollars, and they are oh so much fun to play with.
- ½ clove of garlic
- 1½ tablespoons of sea salt, divided
- 1 bunch fresh basil, washed and dried
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated
- 6-8 fingerling potatoes
- 1 red pepper
- 2-3 shallots
- 2 ½ tablespoons grapeseed (or other neutral) oil, divided
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 halibut filets
Roast the vegetables:
1. Preheat the oven to 450F.
2. Wash, dry and peel the fingerlings, then slice them lengthwise. Wash, dry and seed the pepper, and then cut it into wide strips. Finally, peel the shallots and cut them into fourths.
3. Inside a foil-lined casserole dish or on a baking sheet, toss the vegetables with a healthy glug of grapeseed oil, and a generous sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper.
4. Roast the vegetables for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden brown and the peppers start to blister.
Make the pistou:
1. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with a pinch of sea salt.
2. Add the basil bit by bit until you achieve a thick paste.
3. Shred the tomato through the largest part of a cheese grater, and then add it to the mortar.
4. Add the olive oil and the Parmesan, and stir to combine. Cover the mortar with plastic, and refrigerate it until you are ready to use it.
Cook the fish:
1. Lower the oven temperature to 350F.
2. Sprinkle the fish all over with sea salt and pepper.
3. Heat a measure of grapeseed oil over medium heat in an ovenproof pan. When it is hot, add the fish filets, skin side down. Sere for about 3 minutes, or until the filets come easily off the pan. Flip the halibut filets, and cook for about 2 minutes on the other side.
4. Flip the filets back to the skin side, and move the pan to the oven. Cook for 6-8 minutes.
Finally, throw everything together on a plate and enjoy!