(Theguardian) – Sicilian-style baked fish with a Mexican twist
When the weather is this good, the last thing I want to do is spend hours in the kitchen. There, I’ve said it: it’s the summer holidays, and I want to go on adventures with the children, sip wine with friends and visit beautiful gardens out of town. At this time of year, I basically just want to make-believe that every weekend is the holidays. And it’s not just me: even my local market seems to be mimicking the Mediterranean with its stalls laden with apricots, berries, tomatoes and aubergines.
As part of our 10th anniversary at Wahaca, we have been hosting all sorts of dinners and events, and I’ve been talking about Mexico even more than usual: my mission to explain the true magic of that country’s food continues. I often revert to talking about Italian food as a comparison, because it shares not only such strong similarities in terms of regionality and an intensely strong food culture, but also so many ingredients taken from Mexico.
When the Spanish discovered the Americas, it was at a time when they were also rulers of Sicily, and the exchange of ingredients and ideas between the two countries led to many splendid dishes. Today’s recipe is a case in point: it is inspired by Veracruz, one of Mexico’s oldest and most important ports, where the food is very Mediterranean-like in feel. This dish is quick to throw together, and most of what work there is, is done for you while the tomatoes and peppers cook down gently into a silky heap. The capers and pickled chillies give it a lively touch of heat and a delicious edge of acidity. Perfect for a hazy, sun-soaked summer evening, in fact.
Baked bream with peppers and tomatoes
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, peeled, cut in half and then into thin half-moons
1 small handful fresh thyme or oregano, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick
50g pickled jalapeño chillies (ie, about 3), roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into very thin slivers
3 tbsp small capers
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 peppers (3 red, 3 orange), cut in half, seeds and pith removed and discarded, flesh cut into small chunks
500g multicoloured cherry tomatoes
100ml rich, full-bodied white wine
1 handful fresh basil leaves
4 sustainably sourced bream fillets (ie, from 2 fish)
Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Heat a large pan over a medium heat, then add four tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, stir in the onions, herbs and cinnamon stick, and leave to sweat over a medium-low flame, stirring from time to time, until the onions turn soft and translucent – about 10 minutes.
Add the chillies, garlic and capers to the pan, season generously and cook for five minutes more, then stir in the peppers, tomatoes and wine. Transfer the mix to a baking dish and roast for half an hour, by which time the sauce will be smelling inviting and the vegetables will be deliciously soft.
Taste the vegetables and season accordingly (if your tomatoes are not sweet enough, it will help to add a pinch of brown sugar). Shred the basil and scatter on top, then lay the bream fillets on top of the vegetables. Drizzle over the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, then roast for 10-15 minutes, until the fish is just cooked and still firm. Serve with a fresh, crisp green salad and some boiled new potatoes, rice or crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
And for the rest of the week…
The herby veg sauce is delicious as a foil for baked eggs, too: bake the vegetables for half an hour, then crack in some eggs and cook until done, and you’ll have an excellent brunch to eat with tortillas. Or serve the veg cold as part of a meze with bread, cheese and salad. Leftover jalapeños last for weeks in the fridge and add a deliciously bright tingle of heat to all sorts: I like them chopped with capers on leeks vinaigrette, or in a quick egg mayonnaise roll.