Monday, July 22, 2024
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Delivering big flavour with pantry ingredients

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – Most of us who cook nearly every night have an easy-to-make dish or two that we prepare from memory. Bonus: When that dish can be made from ingredients that we almost always have in our pantry and refrigerator.

Puttanesca falls into the category for me. I rarely make it exactly the same way.

Canned tomatoes and anchovies, jarred capers and briny kalamata olives almost always form the base of the sauce, which then gets a sprinkling of dry spices, such as oregano and crushed red pepper flakes, or maybe basil.

Most often, I add fresh onion or shallot and garlic, but I’ve even used dried minced onion and garlic in a pinch. If all I have is pimento-stuffed green olives, I’ve tossed those in there in place of the kalamata. No anchovies? I’ve used sardines.

The one-pot sauce is cheap, fast and delivers big flavour. How many dishes you can say that about?

Usually, I toss it together in about 15 minutes, heat it up and spoon it over spaghetti. This recipe for Halibut Puttanesca from America’s Test Kitchen reminded me that the sauce can do so much more. After making this, I’ve started using it as a base to cook other proteins.

Halibut puttanesca. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

I enjoyed it with the halibut, as suggested here, but any white flaky fish will do, including snapper or mahi-mahi. America’s Test Kitchen recommends swordfish. I’ve tried it with shrimp, too. Delicious.

It’s great a way to lean into frozen seafood, which often is more readily available and less expensive than fresh. Food editor Joe Yonan has written that he sometimes adds cannellini beans or chickpeas to it. I haven’t tried that yet, but it sounds like a winner to me.

America’s Test Kitchen suggests making the sauce in an ovenproof skillet, nestling the fish in the sauce and then popping the pan into the oven for about 10-15 minutes – just until the fish is cooked through and flaky.

That’s all it takes for this big-shouldered sauce, with its murky origin story, to quickly add lots of flavour to any mild protein. This then also allows me to eat it with or without pasta.

If you’ve got it handy, sprinkle the platter with parsley leaves to add freshness and brightness.

35 minutes
Four servings

This quick, pantry-friendly take on puttanesca sauce is one you’ll want to keep in your back pocket because while it’s great with halibut, as well as cod, mahi-mahi, striped bass or swordfish, it’s also terrific with chicken, pork chops and fried tofu – or simply spooned atop pasta. Briny anchovies, capers and olives add big flavour. Canned tomatoes make it easy to make in any season.

Serve with bread so you can sop up the sauce, and a simple green salad, if you like.
Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to two days.

– Four (four- to six-ounce) skinless halibut fillets, one-inch-thick
– One-quarter teaspoon fine salt
– Half teaspoon finely ground black pepper
– One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
– One shallot (about two ounces), minced
– Five cloves garlic, thinly sliced
– One (two-ounce) can anchovies in oil, drained and chopped
– Two teaspoons dried oregano
– Half teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
– One (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
– Half cup (about 20) pitted whole kalamata olives
– One-quarter cup capers, rinsed
– One-quarter cup fresh parsley leaves

Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Sprinkle the halibut with salt and pepper.

In a large, oven-safe, nonstick skillet, combine the oil, shallot, garlic, anchovies, oregano and pepper flakes, if using. Set the skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until the shallot begins to soften, about four minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and their juice, olives and capers, then nestle the halibut into the sauce. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer.

Transfer the uncovered skillet to the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes apart when gently prodded with a paring knife and registers 130 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Using a spatula, transfer the halibut to a serving platter. Stir the sauce to recombine, then spoon it over the halibut. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve, family-style.

Nutrition information per serving | Calories: 342; Total Fat: 21g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol: 65mg; Sodium: 1118mg; Carbohydrates: 10g; Dietary Fibre: 2g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 26g.