This post is for my pals at Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, the organization I helped to start 20 years ago with my friends Greg Drescher and the late Dun Gifford. Though none of us is officially associated with Oldways these days, Dun ran it until his untimely death a year ago.
The organization continues to be a strong advocate for healthy diets, especially traditional eating patterns like my personal favorite, the Mediterranean–lots of vegetables, legumes and whole grains, not much red meat but plenty of seafood, and above all the use of extra-virgin olive oil as the principal fat, for cooking as well as garnishing.
The folks at Oldways had asked me what I made for dinner last night. Here’s what I told them; this was for 4 people:
I had a 1.3 pound swordfish steak, about an inch and a half thick. In an oven-proof baking dish, I marinated the fish for half an hour in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and a handful of finely chopped herbs from my kitchen garden (parsley, basil, chives, and lovage—but it could be any fresh summery herbs you have on hand), turning the fish several times to coat it well. I cranked the oven up to 400º and prepped the vegetables.
For greens, I had a broccoli knock-off called Happy Rich, which is listed as a warm-weather broccoli in Johnny’s Selected Seeds, my go-to bible/seed catalog. The Chase family, with a wonderful vegetarian restaurant and farm stand in Belfast, Maine, grow Happy Rich and they grow it well: It has lustrous dark, almost blue-green leaves and slender long-stemmed broccoli clusters. Think broccolini with lots more tender leaves and you’ll be close. The flavor is sharper than regular broccoli but not as aggressive as broccoli rabe. I suspect this may be the same green Los Angelenos are starting to get excited about; on the West Coast, they call it spigarello, doubtless a corruption of some Italian dialect name (like arugola which is rughetta in proper Italian). I trimmed a big bunch of Happy Rich and cut it into 3-inch lengths. (If you can’t get this delightful vegetable, use broccoli or broccoli rabe instead.)
I also scrubbed and sliced some little new potatoes, ready to toss them in my black iron skillet with more olive oil and rosemary, also from the garden.
Everything was ready to go when the oven was hot, so I popped the swordfish in the oven. In a big pan on the top of the stove, I brought about an inch of lightly salted water to a rolling boil. While that was heating, I started the sliced potatoes in the iron skillet with plenty of good olive oil, sea salt, and a couple of 3-inch sprigs of rosemary. I thought about adding garlic to the potatoes, but I had garlic already on the swordfish and I wanted to add it to the Happy Rich too—that seemed like plenty.
The potatoes sizzled on the stove top while the Happy Rich steamed away in a covered pan for 10 minutes or so, until it was quite tender. Then I drained it and added it back to the pan in which it had cooked, along with a chopped clove of garlic and a couple of glugs of a good Sicilian extra-virgin that I had in my pantry, setting the pan back over a gentle heat to warm through thoroughly. I could have added a pinch of chili pepper too but my guests were sensitive to hot stuff so I left that out.
I turned the fish after about 20 minutes and let it continue cooking another 20 minutes on the other side. By then the potatoes were tender and getting a little brown and crisp around the edges while the Happy Rich broccoli had absorbed the lush flavors of the olive oil (a Tonda Iblea oil from the Monte Iblei in southeastern Sicily). After just 40 minutes in the kitchen, plus 30 minutes to marinate the fish before I started cooking, dinner was on the table. Delicious, simple, easy, and, dare I say it, very very healthful. With a bowl of fresh strawberries for dessert.
This is just the kind of Mediterranean inspired meal that makes me happy and want to get cooking!