A pot of fennel-tomato ragout is simmering on the stovetop, its aromas wafting throughout the house. G has his feet up on the table, his long body splayed along the sectional couch, limply holding a tall glass of ice-cold water in his hand. I am standing in the kitchen, frying up pan-seared cod while beads of sweat run down my face, my neck, my back. All the fans are blowing at full force, barely moving the wet air around.
But there’s no cooling us down on this scorching summer day in Montreal, when you can take a shower just by stepping onto the street. No dispelling the heat, no breaking the sauna feel of the place.
And yet, this is the day I decide to make pan-seared cod with fennel-tomato ragout.
You may wonder if I’ve lost my mind. If all the work I’ve been doing has completely dried my brain, leaving an empty nest only capable of working on auto-pilot, of resorting to familiar dishes that bring comfort despite their temperature.
But I swear, there’s a method to my madness; I am making pan-seared cod with fennel-tomato ragout today because time is short.
Because summer is only so long, and there’s so much incredible, fresh produce to get through.
Because hot food on a hot day actually regulates your body, helping it acclimatize and not work overtime trying to fight against the heat.
Because lovely, red tomatoes just bursting with colour are now hitting the farmer’s market stalls, and I just can’t wait any more.
Because the fish is so beautiful right now – plump salmon fattened from its summertime swim through the icy waters around Alaska, white-fleshed cod just begging to be savoured.
Because there is so much I want to taste, to savour, to share with others around me, than to wait for cooler days.
Because nothing says home like a pot of soup, a bowl of stew, a ladling of tomato-fennel ragout.
Because I miss the Italian-Spanish melange of flavours of Buenos Aires. The vats of pastries alongside tiny espresso cups served with only slightly larger tumblers of sparkling water. The peppers and onions, the luxurious, long preparations. The sofrito that is the key to any magical dish.
And actually, just because I want to.
If there’s one thing that my trip to Argentina did, besides giving me new friends for life and severe lactose-related indigestion, is that it reignited my love for fish. This pan-seared cod with lightly spiced fennel-tomato ragout harkens to the simple, Italian preparations that seemed to surround me in the land of meat and dulce de leche. The ragout is straightforward, fragrant with thyme and studded with carrots and celery. And the pan-seared cod is just that – pan-seared with a touch of salt and pepper. You could serve the ragout as is, or top with extra-firm tofu instead, and no one would complain.
This dish is my first ode to Argentina’s diverse, beautiful cooking. It’s adapted from Ruth Reichl’s brilliant Gourmet Today, which I turn to each time I’m in need of a weeknight classic.
If you’re brave enough to weather the heat at this time of year and make it, I encourage you to use the best cod, the reddest tomatoes, the liveliest fennel. And if you decide to wait until the temperatures drop a bit and cooler weather prevails, I am confident it won’t be any less delicious.
Pan-seared cod with fennel-tomato ragout
- 3 TBs olive oil
- 1 onion cubed finely
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 carrots cubed finely
- 1 large celery stalk cubed finely
- 2 large fennel bulbs cut into 1-inch wedges, stalks discarded (save fronds for garnish)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 3/4 cup vegetable stock
- 2/3 cup coconut milk
- 3 strands of fresh thyme
- 4 6-7 oz pieces fresh Pacific cod
- 1 TB Dijon mustard
Prepare the Italian sofrito: heat up a pan to medium heat, add olive oil, onions an garlic. Saute for 10 minutes, until fragrant and starting to turn golden. Add carrots and celery, stir, and saute an additional 10 minutes, until carrots are softening a bit.
Add fennel, salt, and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 6-8 minutes, until fennel is lightly browned. Add vegetable stock, coconut milk, and thyme, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, partially covered, until all vegetables are tender but not at all mushy, about 20 minutes.
Approximately 10 minutes before fennel-tomato ragout is done cooking, pat fish dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skilled over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add fish and cook, turning once, about 6-8 minutes.
Stir mustard into ragout just before serving, taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Serve fish over fennel-tomato ragout, sprinkled with chopped fennel fronds