Fish In Pine Nut Sauce: Spanish Tapa for Dinner  - Diane Rossen Worthington Recipes
Spanish Tapa - Fish In Pine Nut Sauce

Joyce Goldstein, author and chef, was my first cooking teacher in San Francisco many years ago. She has an amazing knowledge of Mediterranean food, and in her latest book, "Tapas: Sensational Small Plates From Spain", she explores the world of Spanish flavors in small bites.

Tapas mean small dishes, and in Spain, the country we have to thank for this way of eating, each tapa is usually accompanied by a glass of sherry or another wine. For the home cook, making tapas presents a challenge, as it usually means preparing a number of dishes. I recommend that you try out different tapas recipes -- but make them one at a time -- until you have compiled and mastered enough dishes to include in a tapas meal.

This fish recipe, adapted from Goldstein's book, usually serves 8, but I prepared it as a main course for four along with braised spinach for a very satisfying meal. I found the combination of toasted ground pine nuts with the sweet paprika, saffron and tomato sauce an elegant and balanced flavor.

Many Spanish fish dishes call for sauces made with almonds, hazelnuts or pine nuts, sometimes in combination with tomatoes and saffron. While hake or monkfish is traditionally used for this Catalan dish, you can substitute halibut, cod, sea bass, flounder or another firm white fish. To drink with it, try a Spanish Chardonnay blend (Penedes, Tarragona), dry amontillado sherry (Jerez), or a New Zealand or Argentine Chardonnay.

-- Skip the step of browning the fish. You can combine the fish and the sauce in a baking dish, making sure the fish is fully covered by the sauce, and bake in a preheated in a 450 F oven until fish is tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pieces. If baking, do not reduce the sauce too much, as some of the liquid will evaporate in the oven.

-- Look for sweet Spanish paprika (pimenton de la vera dulce); if you can't find it, you can substitute sweet Hungarian paprika.

-- Warm the saffron over medium heat in a nonstick skillet for 30 seconds to bring out the full flavor.

-- Make sure to add the peas at the end so they stay bright green.

Tapas: Merluza en Salsa de Pinones

(Fish in Pine Nut Sauce Tapas)

Serves 8 as a tapa and 4 as a main course.

1/2 cup pine nuts

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Pinch of saffron threads, warmed and crushed (see below), optional

1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes

1 cup fish stock or dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds firm white fish fillet, cut into 4 pieces

1 cup English peas, cooked until tender-crisp or defrosted petit pois, (optional)

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or mint

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and golden, about 8 minutes. Pour onto a plate to cool. Transfer 1/4 cup of the toasted nuts to a nut grinder or small food processor and grind or pulse until finely ground.

2. To make the sauce, in a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika, garlic, ground pine nuts, breadcrumbs and saffron. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock (or wine) and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

3. In a large frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper, add to the pan, and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes on each side. Pour the sauce over the fish, add the peas, and simmer until the fish is opaque throughout, about 5 minutes longer.

4. Transfer to a serving dish or individual dishes, and garnish with the remaining pine nuts and the parsley. Serve at once.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks (click here), including "Seriously Simple Holidays: Recipes and Ideas to Celebrate the Season," and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host.

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Tapas: Sensational Small Plates From Spain

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