One of my all-time favorite things is snail mail. Receiving it is marvelous, but I love sending people surprise treats. I'll pop a fun card in the mail, or send some kitschy cocktail napkins to a friend. It's one of those small things that brings me great pleasure. Earlier this summer, my sweet friend Katie turned the tables on me and blew me away with a brand new cookbook.
It's easy for friends to send an email, a tweet, a text. She took the time to purchase a book - one written by the chef who catered her wedding- that she wanted to share, write a note, pack everything up, and ship it internationally from Canada to me. Every single time I see it on my cookbook shelf, every single time I flip through the pages looking for (and finding!) inspiration, I have been and will continue to be humbled and happied by this gift. In a small way, it's giving me great ideas of things to cook. In a big way, it reminds me that I cook to share love with those I feed, and I post those foods here on The Chardonnay Kitchen to make connections and share beyond my table.
So, now that we've concluded the Super Sappy portion of today's post, let's get on to the sweet and sour sauce portion. This fish dish is layer upon layer of flavor and is going to blow you away. I'd argue that "sour" isn't totally accurate - it's much more a sweet and acidic sauce. The tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and olives all bring both a sweetness and a "sourness" to the dish. Let's just get to it -- this isn't complicated, but does take a few steps of adding all the flavors to the pan.
Let's start with the ingredients. I'll write up the Rino's Kitchen list and indicate my substitutions:
2 tsp olive oil
4 pickerel fillets (I used two large tilapia fillets - Bortolin notes in the book that any white fish will work beautifully)
1/4 cup flour for dusting
salt & pepper to taste
1 large onion diced
1 diced green pepper
1/4 cup pitted black olives (I used pitted kalamata)
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley (omitted because I didn't have it)
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (Bortolin directs you to his sauce recipe; I used a plain old 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and it worked just fine)
You start off by dipping the fish in flour with salt and pepper, then cooking it in heated olive oil. I did 3 -5 minutes per side, heeding the cookbook instruction to remove the fish from the pan before it is fully cooked. I placed the removed fish on paper towels on a plate to soak up any excess oil.
Then add the onions, olives, and pepper into the pan.
Cook over medium heat until the onions start to brown and become tender. Stir in garlic and season with oregano, salt and pepper.
Once the garlic becomes fragrant, pour in the balsamic vinegar and toss together. Allow the balsamic to reduce slightly.
Add in the tomato sauce (or plain Jane tomatoes) and stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 - 6 minutes.
At this point, your kitchen is going to smell outrageous. Your mouth will be watering and you will feel compelled to start eating this sauce by the spoonful, burning the roof of your mouth and ignoring the hereto un-sauced tilapia.
And then you add the tilapia. And you upgrade from "mouth watering" to "full on drool".
Let the simmering sauce finish cooking the fish, another 4 - 5 minutes. Tell your salivary glands to friggin cool it because you are soooooclose to digging in.
Plate up the fish and smother it in this magical sauce.
You can barely see the fish because I wanted to eat ALL of the sauce. It's heaven. This dish is hearty because there is just so much to it, but it still feels and tastes very light because, at the end of the day, this is nothing more than fish and vegetables. It's fancy and complex enough for a special occasion, but you can pull it together in under an hour. And at least for me - sappy alert - it tasted that much better because of the generosity that brought the recipe to my table.
Get out there today and do something nice for someone. Whether big or little, the ripple effect of simply being kind reaches farther than you might ever be able to see. And, if you're down, make this fish. It is sweet and sour perfection.