A light main dish for summer, this sapid combo by Gennaro Russo, chef of Le Sirenuse’s La Sponda restaurant, plays the umami flavours of roast cod, capers and olives off against the fresh, aromatic notes of fennel and celery. It’s guaranteed to bring a taste of Positano’s sea and mountains to wherever you are in the world.
Taggiasche olives, from Liguria, are small, dark brown, and intensely flavoursome; if you can’t source them, Greek Kalamata olives would also work.
to serve 4
Four cod fillets, approximately 400g (14 oz) each
One large fennel
Two celery sticks
50g (1.8 oz) Taggiasche olives
25g (0.9 oz) salted capers, desalted in changes of water
The pulp (no seeds) of one San Marzano tomato
The pulp (no pips) of one lemon
A bunch of parsley
2 litres vegetable stock
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Ask your fishmonger to prepare four good-sized cod fillets (see photo for guidance), deboning them but leaving the skin on one side. At home, cover the fillets in sea salt to ‘marinate’ them. After half an hour, remove the fillets, wash the salt off under running water, and pat them dry.
You can make the pesto beforehand, as it is served cold. Keep aside a few parsley leaves for the final garnish. Then finely chop the parsley, lemon and tomato pulp, olives and capers, and combine in a bowl with enough olive oil to give a creamy but not too runny sauce.
Next, set the oven to 170°C/340°F.
Divide the vegetable stock equally between two medium saucepans, add a dash of olive oil to each, and bring to a rolling boil. Cut the fennel into eighths and toss it into one pan, then slice the celery diagonally into sections around half an inch thick and throw it into the other. (If this sounds like too much washing up, or if you’re short on stock, you can cook both together, though you’ll forfeit some purity of flavour). Boil both for ten minutes or until just tender, then remove with a slotted spoon.
As soon as the vegetables have started boiling, take a thick bottomed copper, cast-iron or steel frying pan, toss in a slug of olive oil, set on a medium heat, and when the oil is nice and hot, put in the cod fillets, skin side down. After a few minutes, when the skin is golden, transfer the pan to the hot oven (or place the fish in a baking tray if the pan’s not ovenproof) and bake for just 3 minutes.
Just before serving, combine the juices in the bottom of the frying or baking pan with a little of the still warm vegetable stock and reduce rapidly in a small saucepan. Place the fennel and celery on the serving plates, add the fish fillets, pour on a little of the fish and vegetable reduction (don’t overdo it – you need very little), garnish with the parsley leaves you kept aside, and add dabs of the Mediterranean pesto in a circle around the outside.