Wolfgang Puck


It can sometimes seem a long way from Labor Day to Halloween. During that two-month-long stretch, it can feel like not much is happening in the form of those nonreligious, nationally celebrated holidays that give us a good reason to celebrate by cooking something special.

Sure, we've got Columbus Day. That Italian-American celebration certainly allows everyone the opportunity to indulge in pasta or pizza if they like.

But I've just recently discovered that the season is here for another holiday worth observing. It's one that lovers of all things American, and of good food, can celebrate: Native American Day.

Here in California, where I live, none other than Gov. Ronald Reagan signed an official state resolution in 1968 calling for the holiday; and, with the usual speed at which government moves, thirty years later the state legislature made it official. A couple of other states have passed similar measures, and I hope that it's only a matter of time before its observation spreads.

After all, the Indians were the first Americans, the native culture of our continent. And, from my perspective as a chef, there is so much about Native Americans for which I have to be thankful. Without them and the early gathering and cultivation they practiced, we wouldn't have such ingredients as corn, beans, tomatoes, squashes, chili peppers, and various kinds of berries, among other produce. Of course, they hunted and even domesticated turkeys -- which some early American legislators, including Ben Franklin, preferred to name the national bird over the eagle.

So please allow me to suggest you celebrate Native American Day with a home-cooked meal featuring your favorite indigenous ingredients. Two of mine, beans and tomatoes, contribute their special character to my satisfying, colorful, and delicious recipe for a one-dish meal: Pan-Seared Fish Fillets with White Bean Ragout and Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette.

Though there are three separate elements to this recipe, as the name suggests, each is very simple to prepare. You start out by cooking the beans, which you should first pick through the evening before to remove any stones or debris, and then soak overnight in cold water. Then, as they near the end of cooking, you can quickly stir up the tomato vinaigrette. Finally, you quickly pan-sear the fish fillets in a little olive oil, and assemble the dish just before serving.

The recipe makes a spectacular main course for a casual dinner party or a family supper alike. And, as a bonus, with the garlic and basil it includes you can also feel perfectly confident serving it again a week or so later

Pan-Seared Fish Fillets with White Bean Ragout and Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Serves 6

White Bean Ragout:

1 pound dried cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight

1/4 pound bacon, cut into large chunks

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large organic carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 organic celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 large red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1/4 cup finely chopped garlic

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 bunches organic spinach, thoroughly washed, stems removed

2 cups vegetable broth or organic chicken broth

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered

1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

6 large basil leaves, stacked rolled, and thinly sliced lengthwise into chiffonade strips

Pan-Seared Fish:

6 fresh fillets sea bass or other mild, firm-fleshed white fish, each 6 to 8 ounces

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground white or black pepper

First, prepare the White Bean Ragout. Thoroughly drain the soaked beans. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the bacon over medium heat until it renders some of its fat and begins to brown slightly along the edges. Add the drained beans and 5 cups of fresh cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat; then, reduce the heat to a brisk simmer and continue cooking for 45 minutes. Place a colander over a large heatproof bowl and drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Pick out and discard the pieces of bacon.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes.

In a small bowl, blend the tomato paste with 1/2 cup cold water. Add the mixture to the vegetables in the saucepan along with drained beans, cooking liquid, and broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer briskly, partially covered, until the beans are tender and the mixture has reduced by about one fourth, about 20 minutes. Once you have begun cooking the fish, stir in the spinach leaves and simmer until they wilt, about 3 minutes.

While the beans are reducing, prepare the Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette: In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir in the fresh and sun-dried tomatoes and the basil. Set aside.

For the fish, brush the fillets on both sides with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. In a heavy skillet large enough to hold all the fillets, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add the fillets and cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork but is still moist at the center, 3 to 5 minutes per side depending on thickness.

To serve, ladle the white bean mixture into each of 6 large heated soup plates. With a large metal spatula, carefully transfer a fish fillet to each plate. Spoon the tomato vinaigrette on top of each fillet. Serve immediately.

Seafood Recipe, American Cuisine


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Pan-Seared Fish Fillets with White Bean Ragout and Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

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