Giorgio Locatelli's Branzino alla Vernaccia in Crosta Di Pomodoro (Sea Bass with Tomato Crust and Vernaccia Wine)
As the two of you who read this blog know, I have a crush on Giorgio Locatelli. His cookbooks completely rock my world. Our first cookbook club we ever hosted? Locatelli. The restaurant I must visit whenever I’m lucky enough to be in London for work or pleasure? Locatelli. My go-to for amazing Italian recipes, stories and inspiration? Locatelli.
We had friends over this weekend and made a big Italian dinner for everyone. After obligatory appetizers, we started with a nod to it being St. Patrick’s day--a Corned Beef and Cabbage Strudel with a mustard sauce. It was great, got my Irish obligation out of the way, gave us a reason to switch wines, and had everyone sated enough to provide some cooking time to finish the other plates. (Let me know if you want the recipe and I’ll post it).
My Poodle Becky came over and graciously offered to help with the fish dish. I am a pretty confident cook. But when your friend is the author of a sustainable seafood book (Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast) AND was just nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook award AND you are trying a dish with fish you haven’t cooked before, you swallow your pride and cry, "uncle." Or at least whimper a bit to get the bitch to help.
Oh, and by the time we got to the fish we were about five bottles in. But I digress…
Becky rocked it. She finished filleting the fish, removed the bones and scales the fishmonger missed, and made this amazing dish while I worked on the next course. (Recipes for that to follow: gnocchi Bolognese; braised fennel with orange, sambuca and chile; and a sweet and sour eggplant dish similar to a caponata). The caramelized onion and artichoke puree is decadent, the tomato crust on the fish provides an indescribably sexy, crunchy tang, and the wine reduction provides the necessary acid. It all comes together seamlessly.
Note: The Branzino was really small so I subbed in a rockfish instead. Any firm, white fish will work but be sure to get a thick fillet so it doesnt overcook when you try to crisp the skin.
This is one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had, and next time, I’ll do it all on my own.
Sea bass with tomato crust and Vernaccia wine
Branzino alla Vernaccia in Crosta Di Pomodoro
3 tablespoons diced green olives
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
4 thick sea bass fillets(each about 7 ounces)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
160 ml Vernaccia (or other spicy dry white wine)
3 tablespoons fish stock
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt and pepper
For the artichoke puree:
2 large globe artichokes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion (thinly sliced)
160 ml cup white wine
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 pats of butter
Blanch the tomatoes, skin, quarter and deseed, then cut into dice about the same size as the olive dice.
Put the sun-dried tomatoes into a food processor, process them quickly, then add the bread crumbs and whiz again until the tomato is absorbed into the bread crumbs and it looks a bit like a crumble mixture. Spoon out onto a tray and flatten down. Leave in a warm place in the kitchen for an hour or so to dry out.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F) and take your sea bass out of the fridge so that it can come to room temperature. Squeeze the lemon juice, put half to one side and add the rest to a bowl of water. Have this ready before you start preparing the artichokes for the puree.
To make the puree, snap off the artichoke stalks and discard them. With a small paring knife, starting at the base of each artichoke, trim off all the green leaves and put the artichoke into the bowl of water with lemon juice while you remove the leaves from the next one. Repeat with the remaining artichokes. Using the same paring knife, begin to trim away the white leaves from each artichoke until you are left only with a few tender ones surrounding the heart. Put back into the bowl of water and continue to trim the other artichokes, putting them into the water as soon as they are ready, so that they don't discolour. Cut each artichoke heart in half, scoop out the hairy chokes and discard them. Leave the remaining hearts in the bowl of water until you need them.
Heat a saucepan, add the olive oil and then the sliced onion. Cook for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft but not coloured. Thinly slice the artichoke hearts, add them to the onion and cook for another 5 minutes, the add the white wine. Allow the alcohol to evaporate completely (about 15 to 20 minutes) and then add half a pint of water. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so, until the artichokes are soft and all the water has disappeared — keep an eye on the pan and stir as the water evaporates, to avoid the artichokes catching fire and burning.
Transfer the contents of the pan containing the artichokes to a food processor and puree until smooth.
Put the cream in a pan and boil it to reduce it by half. Add the artichoke puree and let it cook for a few minutes. The resulting puree should be soft but firm enough for the sea bass to sit on top; if you feel that it is too wet, let it cook a little longer to dry it out. When it is ready, season to taste, cover and keep to one side.
Take an ovenproof nonstick frying pan big enough to fit all the fillets comfortably and get it hot on the burner. (If you don't have a big enough pan, you will need to cook the fillets in two batches.) Lightly season the fish on the skin side, put a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan (it will heat up instantly) and add the fillets, skin side down. As the heat goes through the fish, it will turn from translucent to white and opaque.
As soon as the fillet has turned white halfway up the fillet, turn it over (the skin should now be crisp and golden) and sprinkle with the dried breadcrumb and tomato mixture. Pour the wine into the pan (around, not over the fish) and transfer to the oven for a couple of minutes. The bread crumbs will crisp up and become darker in colour.
Take the pan from the oven and lift the fish onto a warm plate. Put the pan back on the heat, add the olives, tomatoes and fish stock, and bubble up so that it reduces by half. Then put the sea bass back into the sauce, crust upward, for a minute or so to heat through.
At the same time, put the artichoke puree back on the heat to warm through. Stir in the butter and, when the puree is hot, spoon it onto your plates and put the fish on top.
To the pan in which the fish has been cooked, add the reserved lemon juice, the rest of the olive oil and the parsley, then spoon this mixture around the fish and serve.