By Wolfgang Puck
Tribune Content Agency
What a wonderful time it is when sun-ripened tomatoes come into season, as they are right now during the heart of summer.
Sure, you can find tomatoes – even heirloom varieties of all colors, shapes and sizes – in the market throughout the year, thanks to hothouse agriculture and international shipping. But tomatoes that have grown locally under the warm sunshine and have made just a short journey to your food store or farmers market will always taste better, be juicier and simply look more naturally beautiful than those you buy during autumn, winter or spring.
Of course, it makes sense to enjoy those seasonal tomatoes at their freshest, sliced or chopped to make all sorts of salads that seem to miraculously capture the season in every bite. The Italian caprese salad, with mozzarella, fresh basil and fruity extra-virgin olive oil, is the quintessential example, but I know you will let your imagination run wild.
When I cook with summer tomatoes, I always make sure that the recipe treats them with the respect they deserve, highlighting their essence in a way you just can’t do when the ingredient isn’t at its very best. That’s why I’m often tempted to make just a simple tomato butter sauce, which I find to be a perfect vehicle for distilling the vegetable-fruit’s sweetness and body. As long as I’m doing that at the stove, I’ll also put in a little quick time to cook fresh white fish fillets that have a mild flavor and firm, yet tender texture that makes a suitable partner for such a fresh seasonal preparation.
Widely available halibut fillets make an excellent choice for this recipe, and you could also substitute striped bass, cod, haddock, flounder or any other white fish fillets you like. Cooked on the stovetop in a buttered casserole, with some chopped shallots and white wine, the fish cooks in just a few minutes and is then transferred to a heated plate to keep warm while you add to its cooking liquid a reduced juice of fresh tomatoes, reducing the mixture further and then enriching it with some butter and cream.
That sauce sounds sumptuous, doesn’t it? And to make sure you don’t miss a delicious drop, there’s one final element to the dish: fresh pasta, which forms a base on which you serve the fish and its sauce. All that’s left to add is a glass of well-chilled dry white wine, and you have the finishing for a casual yet elegant summer dinner.
HALIBUT FILLETS WITH TOMATO BUTTER AND FRESH PASTA
- 8 medium-sized, firm but ripe red tomatoes
- 1/2 pound (250 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing
- 6 halibut fillets, about 6 ounces (185 g) each
- 2 shallots, minced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
- 3/4 cup (185 mL) cream
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds store-bought fresh fettuccine or linguine
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Bring a large pot of water and a small saucepan of water to a boil. Fill a mixing bowl with ice cubes and water.
When the saucepan of water boils, use a small, sharp knife to core 2 of the tomatoes and score a shallow X in their opposite ends. Use a slotted spoon to lower them into the saucepan and, as soon as their skin begins to wrinkle after about 15 seconds, lift them out with the spoon and transfer to the ice water. Then, peel the 2 tomatoes starting at the X, halve and seed them, and cut them into 1/4-inch (6-mm) dice. Transfer to a bowl and cover.
Cut the remaining 6 tomatoes into large chunks, and pulse them in a food processor until finely chopped. Spoon the tomatoes into a fine wire strainer over a bowl, and press them through with a spatula. Set aside the chopped tomatoes, and transfer the resulting juice to a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
With some butter, grease a heavy flameproof casserole large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Arrange the fillets in the casserole, sprinkle with shallots, and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the wine, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil over medium heat; then reduce the heat and simmer until the fish is just springy to a light, quick touch, 3 to 5 minutes. With a spatula, transfer the fish to a warmed plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep them moist; their residual heat will continue cooking them to the perfect doneness.
Add the tomato juice to the casserole, and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens again, 3 to 5 minutes. While whisking continuously, add the butter a piece at a time to form a velvety sauce. Taste and adjust the seasons with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne.
Meanwhile, add some salt to the pot of boiling water, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, following the suggested cooking time, usually 1 1/2 to 4 minutes depending on thickness. Drain the pasta and add it, still slightly dripping, to the sauce, lifting and turning it with tongs to coat it evenly.
With tongs, transfer the pasta to heated serving plates. Place a halibut fillet on top of the pasta on each plate and spoon remaining sauce from the casserole over the fish. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and parsley, and serve immediately.