Sunday, August 17, 2008

Penne with Red Snapper, Tomatoes, and Capers

When it comes to cooking fish, my experience before tonight was just about zero. Apart from canned tuna, I don't think I had ever once prepared a dish that involved fish. It's not that I don't like fish, because I do, quite a bit. It's just that I have a strange aversion to dealing with any kind of raw animal flesh and so I end up eating almost all vegetarian meals when I cook for myself, though I'll happily eat meat that other people have prepared!

However, I have been going through Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" which I highly highly recommend to anyone who ever cooks or is at all interested in knowing what's going on in all that stuff you put in your mouth, and I just arrived at the fish section. Reading all about fish muscles and fish preparation made me quite curious (for some reason I find myself fascinated by all the descriptions of the chemical processes involved in the breakdown of muscle by heat). Then at the farmer's market this morning, I noticed a stand with some nice fresh-looking fish fillets. Since I wanted something easy to prepare, I decided this was perfect and, after peppering the fish vendor with questions about the different types of fish, I decided on a fillet of red snapper.

I had some San Marzano tomatoes I needed to use up, and I always like capers with fish, so after going through all sorts of fish recipes online, mixing them all up, and adding a few of my own personal touches, I came up with the following dish, which turned out quite nicely for a first fish-dish!

You will need:
1 fillet of red snapper (or other fish that cooks well in a pan)
80 g penne
4-5 San Marzano tomatoes (you can substitute other smaller tomatoes like cherry tomatoes here, in which case you should use about 10-12)
A couple spoonfuls of capers
1 onion
A couple cloves of garlic
Lemon juice
1/2 small glass of dry white wine
Olive oil
Fresh parsley
Fresh basil

If you're using San Marzano tomatoes, begin by boiling them for about 30 seconds, running them under cold water, and then peeling and seeding them. Cut the remaining pulp into thin strips and set aside. If you're using something like cherry tomatoes, just cut them in half, leaving the peel intact.

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. While you're heating the water, chop up the onion and crush the cloves of garlic with your hand or the flat edge of a knife.

When the water starts to boil, salt it and add the penne, stirring a bit to make sure they don't stick. In a frying pan, start to heat the olive oil. While the oil is heating, take the red snapper fillet, rinse if necessary, and cover with lemon juice. Then chop it into small pieces.

Once the oil is hot enough to make a few water droplets spattered onto it sizzle, add the garlic. After about a minute, add the onion. When the onion has become tender and translucent, add the red snapper. Sprinkle salt and pepper over everything, and let cook a few minutes, stirring frequently.

Pour the white wine onto the snapper, and let it cook until all the wine has evaporated. Once the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes and the capers and let cook a few more minutes, again stirring quite a bit.

Drain the penne, and quickly throw them onto the mix of snapper, tomatoes, and capers. Turn off the heat, stir everything up, and then chop or tear up the parsley and basil and sprinkle over everything. Give it all a good last stir, and serve piping hot!

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