EVENT: Pre-Movie Dinner Date
VENUE: Cara’s apartment, Park Slope
PARTY SIZE: 2
TYPE: From the Farmers’ Market (and the freezer)
MENU: Rockfish in Fennel-Saffron Broth, Orange Sweet Potatoes, Roasted Fennel
PHOTOS BY: Alex
Last Saturday, I was among the first 20 people to arrive at the farmers’ market. Now, this is not an easy feat in Park Slope, land of the chipper young parent and early-bird dog owner. But I was out bright and early for a different reason than my neighbors, one that had little to do with maturity. I was on my way to the Bronx, first to a dreaded dentist appointment, and then to play in a slightly less dreaded alumni field hockey match at my high school. Though the homecoming game, in which we alumni would be playing the current varsity team, wasn’t until noon, I had a trek ahead of me–the subway to Union Square, a car key handover at my older sister Jill’s, then acceleration up the FDR to the Deegan to the Bronx River Parkway, an hour under the painful pricking of a dental hygienist, a stop at my mom’s to pick up my old field hockey gear, and finally, arrival at Fieldston, where I spent five long days a week, from 1989 until 2003.
With all that ahead of me I sprinted through the market, grabbing things at random: fresh apples, fingerling potatoes, a pair of sweet potatoes, and, in my sleepy haze, an unlikely bulb of fennel. I dropped everything at home, pulled on my sports clothes and sneakers, and made a run for the train.
Back in high school, Phoebe and I, as well as our friends Jordana, Jessy, Essie, Leora, Carolyn, and Sam, were on the championship-winning (it wasn’t a very competitive league) varsity team. We were athletic, and we had to be: every day after school, we ran and did drills for three hours. It goes without saying that we don’t exactly get three hours of daily exercise anymore, perhaps weekly, if we’re lucky. Playing an entire game of field hockey, therefore, caused Phoebe, Jessy, and I (the only volunteers from our old crew) to pant, wheeze, and pull muscles we’d be complaining about for days. Though by the end our skills came back to us slightly, and we nearly won the game against our energetic 16 year-old opponents, by the time the final whistle blew, the three of us were ready to head back to the city and our sedentary lives.
I got home, showered off the shin guard sweat, and started to think about dinner. Fortunately, I didn’t have much planned for the night, so I told Alex I’d make us a meal at home before heading back out to watch Matt Damon in The Informant. I got in to bed, aiming to nap and recover. But then my muscles started tightening, and making some big fancy dinner stopped seeming so feasible.
Hoisting myself out of bed around 6pm was as athletic a feat as the goal I’d scored earlier (off of Phoebe’s assist, obviously), and as I began cooking, things like lifting a spatula and washing a dish started to seem equally taxing. And at this point, as there was no way I was leaving the house, I was going to be working with the morning’s farmers’ market yield, supplemented by the array of Alaskan fish I had in my freezer, acquired from Essie’s father when I stopped by to collect some of her things to bring with me to Mozambique. Fennel, perhaps the most off-the-cuff of my purchases, turned out to be priceless: the bulb functioned both in the fish’s cooking broth and in the vegetable side, and the green, dill-like leaves acted as a seasoning.
From my kitchen, where I’ve committed to running hill sprints every morning, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
(the twenty-somethings had a hard time getting up after this photo was taken)
Rockfish in Fennel-Saffron Broth with Orange Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Fennel
The best way to time this is to bake the sweet potatoes first, then cool and season them and reheat them just before serving. Then, start roasting the fennel about 20 minutes before the fish goes in. Put the fish in and cook both fish and fennel for the final 20 minutes. I’ve written up all three recipes together, but of course you can make either of the vegetable sides without the fish.
2 filets rockfish (striped bass, or other flakey white fish)
1 large bulb fennel
1 shallot (or 1/4 of a medium onion), very thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup broth or water
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon good-tasting olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
pinch of nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Roast the sweet potatoes on the oven rack for 45 minutes to an hour, until they’re quite soft. Set aside until they’re cool enough to handle. When they are, scoop the potatoes out of the skin, add the orange juice, nutmeg, and salt, and gently mash so the potatoes are nearly smooth but not gluey. Taste for citrus flavor and salt, then keep warm (or reheat) for serving.
While the potatoes are cooling, trim the fennel, keeping 2 teaspoons of the green dill-like leaves. Remove the outermost husk and reserve it. Cut the remaining bulb into 8 wedges. Brush the wedges with olive oil, arrange them on a baking sheet, and roast for about 40 minutes.
To make the fish: warm the broth slightly. Add a pinch of salt and the saffron, and stir to combine.
Slice the reserved fennel into very thin slices, and arrange them in the bottom of a small baking dish. Scatter the sliced shallot over them, then sprinkle with salt. Arrange both filets in one layer over the vegetables and sprinkle with more salt. Pour the wine and the saffron-flavored broth over the fish. Cover tightly with foil. Reduce the oven temperature for 375°F and bake for 20 minutes until the fish flakes.
Heat the sweet potatoes in the microwave or in a small saucepan. Serve a mound of sweet potatoes with a filet draped over and roasted fennel on the side. Pour the extra saffron broth into a bowl and serve alongside. (You can also serve the fish in shallow bowls in the broth, then eat the sweet potatoes on the side.)