You never know what twists and turns a recipe will take.
Rarely do I make a recipe exactly same as the last. Even my favorite dishes morph until I sometimes don’t recognize them from the original. Many of the meals we have started out in some way from a recipe of my mother, aunt, grandmother, or a friend, and it gets altered, brought into this century, perhaps tweaked for a food allergy. We look at cook books, get inspiration, find even more at the farm stand or our own pantry. You never know what twists and turns a recipe will take.
This recipe’s ancestry
It all started when my friend Terrie over at Comfort du Jour posted her recipe for her lovely take on porchetta, a festive Italian pork dish stuffed with a fragrant blend of herbs and lemon. I commented on the stuffing, and Terrie suggested the filling would also be great on fish. This I tucked in my mind, and scribbled a little line in my notebook, not quite sure how the evolution of this recipe would proceed. With the arrival of a bountiful fennel harvest here, I was ready to try yet another dish with this flavor up front and forward. After harvesting my own fennel flowers, I was ready to put them to work as well.
Then came the sole
Then, I saw some lovely sole just in at the fish market and my dish started taking shape in my mind. I love stuffing sole, it is tender and very thin, so rolling it up is often a great way to prepare it. I’ve stuffed it with Maine crabmeat, and also with sauteed leeks. Both are delicious. Making a little roll-up with just herbs in the middle sounded even simpler, and this dish takes only about a half hour from start to serving.
Enter, the grapes
After preparing the stuffing of fennel, fennel pollen, rosemary, garlic, lemon, and pepper flakes, a quick roll up and into the baking dish. A sprinkle of breadcrumbs, and the addition of some white wine, and it was ready for the oven. But then my eyed spied a bowl of grapes sitting right on the counter, and in they went. I love roasted grapes and I thought this would be a nice addition, a little sweet, and I realized later that the combination of sole and grapes resided somewhere in the back of my mind in the form of Sole Veronique, a classic French dish of lightly pan-fried sole with grapes and a cream sauce!
A nice flat fish rolls up nicely
I used sole, but any flat fish will do, such as flounder. I halved Terrie’s stuffing amount, with just a bit more lemon proportionally. Fennel pollen can usually be found in the bulk spice section of the health food store or co-op if you didn’t grow your own fennel flowers. The fennel pollen is usually the flower petals, and sometimes some of the green, as well as any actual pollen from the blossoms. Its complex flavor is more intense than the seeds, a bit citrusy and more. When it is growing in my garden, I’ll pop one tiny flower in my mouth and it is like an explosion of great flavor, and it holds up well in cooking.
You make expand this dish to feed a crowd, and put the whole thing together in the morning, tuck in the refrigerator, and bake off once your guests arrive.
And here we are
Thus, from Auguste Escoffier, round about through Comfort du Jour and my local herb bed, fish market, and fruit bowl, we ended up with a most delightful dish. The sole was tender and flaky, the herb mixture blended beautifully; I had worried the rosemary would overtake everything else, but it behaved nicely. The wine and the fish juices combined to make a simple but tasty sauce, and the grapes were a most memorable component of the whole. I’ll definitely make this again; who knows what I’ll find sitting on the counter next time?
Baked Sole with Grapes and an Herb Stuffing
1 lb. fresh sole or flounder filets, about four
1 tbsp. fresh minced garlic
1 heaping tbsp. fresh lemon zest
2 tsp. fennel pollen
½ tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, about 15 twists
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 dozen grapes
1 tbsp. butter
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a small casserole dish. I used an oval 13.5” X 9” baking dish.
Mix together the garlic, zest, and spices. Pat the fish dry, and season both sides with salt and pepper.
Roll them up, and place seam side down in the baking dish. Toss in the grapes and add the wine to the pan. Sprinkle the tops of the fish with the breadcrumbs, and spritz with a bit of olive oil so the crumbs will brown. Pinch of salt over the grapes and wine, and just a few more red pepper flakes.
Bake for 20 minutes. If the crumbs are not browned, then turn on the broiler and let the tops of the fish brown for about a minute, keeping an eagle eye on them. You don’t want to overcook the fish.
Plate the fish, and swirl the butter in the pan drippings to serve alongside.