PESCE ALLA PIZZAIOLA (Fish Braise Cooked Pizzaiola Style)

There are many Italian recipes cooked alla pizzaiola and If you cook something “alla pizzaiola’ it will have tomatoes, garlic, and parsley; in this case there are also anchovies and chillies.

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This mixed fish braise is very easy to cook and although the recipe may appear to have too much garlic and chillies, the flavours meld into a mild, sweet flavoured sauce with subtle tastes. Serve the dish with bread to mop up the flavourful liquid.

The anchovies add another layer of taste and do not overwhelm the flavours of this dish; if you do not like them, leave them out or, for a milder taste, use white anchovies (called boquerones, from Spain).

Vary the amounts of shellfish and fish to suit your tastes, for example the last time I made this dish I used only fish fillets and it was great.

INGREDIENTS
300g fillets of firm white-fleshed fish
200g squid, cut into rings
200g mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
100g cockles
100g prawns
1 whole bulb of garlic, very finely chopped (to taste)
3-5 red chillies (remove the seeds), very finely chopped
salt to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
300g red tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces (or use tinned)
anchovies to taste, (I used 4)
¾ cup white wine
½ cup chopped parsley; also use some to sprinkle onto the finished dish

PROCESSES
Cut fish fillets into serving size pieces. Pat the fish dry, rub with a little salt and pan-fry them in a in a large frying pan with a little of the oil. Remove them and set aside.
Pan fry the squid rings in the same pan and set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil and over medium heat sauté the garlic and chilli until the garlic begins to soften – with cooking, these ingredients will disappear in the sauce. Leave some of the seeds in the chillies if you like hot food.
Stir in chopped anchovies until they dissolve.
Add the wine and evaporate for 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, parsley, a little salt and cook the sauce until it is reduced. (Remember that the anchovies will be salty and that the mussels and cockles will also release their salty liquid).
Place the mussels, cockles and prawns into the sauce, cover and cook until the mussels and cockles have opened. The prawns will cook at the same time as the mussels.
Add the fish and squid to the pan and gently press them into the sauce ensuring that the sauce covers them and heat through.

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SALSA ROMESCO (Romesco sauce, this recipe is made with roasted peppers, tomatoes and almonds)

I had some left over cooked prawns I wanted to use up and thought that a sauce would liven them up.

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Salsa Romesco is said to have originated from Tarragona, a town close to Barcelona in north-eastern Spain. It is an old Roman town so you can be partly forgiven if you thought that the sauce originated from Rome.
I consulted many sources and there are so many variations to making this Catalan condiment, but the most common ingredients seem to be garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, white bread and almonds. Most interesting is that the recipes from respected food writers, e.g. in Honey From a Weed, (Patience Gray), Mediterranean Seafood (Alan Davison) and Mediterranean Food (Elizabeth David) the main ingredients are tomatoes and the peppers are either paprika or chillies or dried red pepper flakes.

Some recipes include sherry vinegar or wine (rather than wine vinegar). Some have hazelnuts or walnuts as well as the almonds.

There are a few recipes where the bread is first soaked in vinegar and then squeezed dry before it is added to the blend (like when making salsa verde) and others where the bread is toasted in the oven.

Those who are serious romesco – makers make it in a mortar and pestle and also roast or char the tomatoes. If peppers are used these are also charred. I have found references to small red peppers which are often referred to as romesco peppers in Catalonia, so perhaps this is why the name.

Because my grandmothers were Sicilian and this is a Catalan recipe, I cannot say that this is how it is made in my family, however I can give you what has worked for me. There is always room for improvement and I will keep on experimenting.

This sauce is usually associated as a condiment for shellfish and fish. It is also good with grilled and roasted vegetables (especially cold, left over ones that need dressing up the next day).

I usually add a couple of roasted tomatoes to my roasted pepper salads and I conveniently had some in the fridge left over from the night before. I keep roasted garlic covered in olive oil in the fridge, and using up ready made ingredients is often a strong reason why I make certain things in the first place.

INGREDIENTS
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 slice stale sourdough bread
2 large red peppers
1 cup blanched almonds
1 tsp smoked paprika (preferred) or sweet paprika
2 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
2 ripe medium size tomatoes
salt to taste
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and ½ cup when you blend the ingredients
water (a little) to thin down the sauce

PROCESSES
Prepare the ingredients before hand:
Roast/chargrill the peppers whole, peel, remove seeds and break them into strips. If using fresh tomatoes cut them into pieces. If you are roasting / chargrilling the peppers do them at the same time.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a fry pan sauté the bread until golden.
Roast the garlic whole (Preheat oven to 200 °C, wrap in foil and bake). An easier option is to sauté the peeled cloves of garlic in the same frypan after you have pan-fried the bread.
Toast the blanched almonds or alternatively sauté them in the same frypan.
Place the bread, and almonds in a blender and pulverize.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until it forms into a thick, smooth-ish sauce. If the sauce is a too thick, add a little water to thin it down.

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CHRISTMAS RECIPES with a Sicilian theme and “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

Buon natale e buone feste. Happy Christmas to everyone.

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I hope that you will eat well and that all your efforts will be appreciated by those who will share your cooking with you.

I have many readers from USA who are probably wondering if for La Vigilia (Christmas Eve) I will take part in the so-called “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a tradition which is strong among Americans of Sicilian and Southern Italian background and where they strongly adhere to eating seven different fish presented in seven different dishes. I n the past few years I have noticed that this “tradition” is beginning to creep into Australian Culture.

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I remember first hearing about this tradition when Mary Taylor Simeti and I were interviewed by Jane O’Connor for an article in the December 2010 issue of Italianicious. Mary is a highly respected and widely published writer on Sicilian cuisine and culture. Neither of us has ever found any trace of this tradition in Sicily and I have not experienced this with Sicilians in Australia. We agreed that it may be an example of how a little known custom may have travelled with Sicilian emigrants and taken on a greater significance in America. It is not the norm in Australia yet and we ought not confuse what is fact and what is fiction.

What is traditional in Sicily is usually traditional in other parts of Italy. And it is the custom to share a celebratory meal with family and friends on Christmas Eve. And yes, they do eat fish because traditionally in the Catholic Church it was a day of abstinence (when no meat was eaten on Fridays and specified holy days). Over time this meal has become the Christmas celebration. Midnight Mass follows and it made sense for Italians, who love food, to spend the time eating while waiting for Mass. They sleep in on Christmas day and eat sparingly. For Christmas lunch my parents had brodo and tortellini or polpettine (broth with tortellini or small chicken meat balls). They were too tired and replete from the night before.

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And why is seven the significant number? That’s anybody’s guess, and it is fun to speculate. There are so many things were seven is magic number: Is it the number of sacraments or the seven virtues or deadly sins? I also know that there are Seven Hills of Rome, a dance of the seven veils. I could go on.

 

In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, there are many recipes that could serve for Christmas Eve. I quite like the idea of cooking several courses and one could easily begin with a light seafood salad or a marinaded fish (thinly sliced and raw like a carpaccio) and progress to a lightly cooked whiting or a seafood pasta and then a heavier braised fish dish made with large thick slices of firm fleshed fish. Hopefully you will select sustainable fish for your recipes.

Traditionally eel and baccalà or stockfish are eaten on Christmas eve in many parts of Italy. Those of you who have a copy of my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking will find recipes for these.

There are also many recipes that could be useful for this holiday period on my blog. Here are only a few; click on the links below:

A SEAFOOD CHRISTMAS – BUON NATALE (Many recipes /interview on ABC with Fran Kelly Dec 2011
PER NATALE, COSA SI MANGIA? At Christmas, what do you eat

PESCE ALLA GHIOTTA  (Sicilian Fish, a recipe to satisfy the gluttons)
Mussels with Sambuca– anice flavoured liqueur)

GAMBERI AL COGNAC (Prawns cooked with cognac or brandy)

BAKED BACCALÀ (Baccalaru ‘o fornu – Sicilian and Baccalà al forno- Italian)

FISH BRAISE WITH TOMATOES, GARLIC, RED CHILLIES AND ANCHOVIES

RICH FISH SOUP FROM SYRACUSE COOKED IN THE OVEN
CASSATA (It is perfect for an Australian Christmas)
CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED – a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

CHRISTMAS DOLCI and DOLCETTI and Pistachio Shortbread Biscuit

GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds

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CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED – a postmodernist take on Sicilian Cassata

When my children were young they used to refer to me as the food police; everything had to be just right and particularly when we went to a restaurant I often seemed to find fault.

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I cannot always be a purist. Sometimes I take shortcuts and this shortcut did not look or taste too bad.

I used sponge fingers, dipped in Cointreau. These formed the casing of the sweet – the  bottom and top layers. In between I used a sweet ricotta filling, in fact it a similar ricotta filling that I use when making a cassata. I then covered the top layer of sponge fingers with a whipped cream with a little ricotta, topped it with summer strawberries and leaves made from marzipan. The result is very much like a summer cassata and very suitable for the Christmas season.

The flavours and process of dipping sponge fingers or sponge cake in liqueur and layering with a cream filling are very much Italian. After all, I have been making cassata, zuppa inglese and tiramisu for years.

I have maintained the Italian colours.The only problem is what do I call this dessert?

The marzipan can be made days beforehand, wrapped in cling wrap and left in the fridge. The leaves can also be made beforehand and placed in a sealed container with baking paper in between each leaf.

This dessert fed 6-8 people – the strawberries were huge and because of their large size they give a wrong sense of scale.

INGREDIENTS
500 g fresh ricotta,
100 g caster sugar,
1 cup Cointreau or to taste
50g of chopped blanched almonds
vanilla concentrate
some orange and citron peel previously soaked in Cointreau for at least 1 hour
small pieces of dark chocolate
cream to cover the dessert, add as much as you like

PROCESSES
Arrange sponge biscuits in a square container lined with cling wrap. Sprinkle them with orange flavoured liqueur.
Beat 450g ricotta with a dash of cream, sugar and vanilla. The mixture should be creamy but stiff.
Fold in nuts, chocolate, and drained peel. Reserve the Cointreau.
Place this on the layer of sponge fingers and finish off with a top layer which you have sprinkled with more Cointreau – I used what I drained off the peel.
Leave it for at least 5 hours.
Close to serving, (I did this an hour before my guests arrived) decorate it with the whipped cream (mixed with a little vanilla, 50g of whipped ricotta and a little caster sugar to taste).
Place strawberries on top and decorate with leaves.

Marzipan leaves:
100g blanched almond meal
100g g icing sugar
1 egg white
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 drop green food dye

Mix contents together and use your fingers to knead the mixture; add more sugar of meal if the mixture is too wet.
Place the marzipan in between two sheets of baking paper and roll it out thinly. Cut it into shapes of leaves.

One of  the cassate (plural of cassata )I have made covered with green marzipan.

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CHRISTMAS DOLCI and DOLCETTI and Pistachio Shortbread Biscuits 2013

It is Christmas at Dolcetti; these photos speak for themselves (see link at the end of this post).

Marianna from Dolcetti is making so many traditional sweets for Christmas. There are too many to mention in this post but here are a few photos of what you can purchase from her Pasticceria (Italian for Patisserie) in Melbourne.

 

There are torroni ( plural of torrone) in various colours and flavours: almond chocolate, vanilla rosepetal, strawberries and white chocolate, chocolate baci, vanilla, roast almond and orange blossom, pistachio and almond……Marianna is famous for her hand made sweet things. f Some of you who live in Australia may have seen her on TV, Italian Food Safari (SBS) making her torrone (nougat). There is also a book of the series published by Hardie Grant.

Giuggiulena (also called Cubbaita) is also classed as a torrone. Click on link to see earlier post for description and recipe:

GIUGGIULENA (also CUBBAITA) – a brittle Sicilian toffee of sugar and honey with sesame seeds and almonds.

Also particularly Sicilian is the Buccellato (in dialect “cucciddatu”); This is made in the shape of ring and is  stuffed with nuts and dried fruit. Photo of Giuggiulena and Buccellato above.

Panforte is one of the oldest sweets in Italy; it is very popular in Siena and Pisa but is now found in most places in Italy and overseas .This is heavily scented and flavoured with medieval spices. Marianna makes both the dark and light version
(different ingredients) in various shapes and sizes. It’s served in thin slices like torrone and keeps very well.

One of my favourites are the dried figs filled with nougat and dipped in dark chocolate; a version of these are also a popular Christmas sweet in Calabria and usually stuffed with almonds or walnuts and candied orange peel.

There are also Italian Christmas cakes – moist, light in colour and laden with rum and marsala. (No images)

Pignolata is a typical sweet of Sicily and Calabria that is popular at Christmas and during Carnival festivities. These are balls of fried dough (they look like large chickpeas) and covered with warmed honey.

She is also highly respected for her different almond biscuits (she is of Sicilian heritage after all) and of these you will find many varieties, however she also makes similar ones with pistachio; one these are the Pistachio Shortbread Biscuits. This is Marianna’s recipe.

 

Pistachio Shortbread Biscuits

INGREDIENTS
250g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
160g pure icing sugar, sifted
2 tbs fine rice flour
2 tbs corn flour
90g almond meal
225g plain flour
1/3 cup unsalted pistachio nuts, very finely ground (like the almond meal)

PROCESSES
Combine butter and icing sugar. If using an electric mixer it is important that you do not overbeat the butter and sugar as this will add too much air to the mixture. Another way to view this is that the butter must remain yellow and not the pale colour that results when butter and sugar is beaten for a considerable amount of time.
Add ground nuts, and then the flours last of all and mix until mixture comes together. Once again, do not overwork it; being short breads using your fingers to rub in the flours may work best.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface and with a sharp knife or biscuit cutter cut into preferred shapes; Marianna has cut hers into Christmas trees.
Place the biscuits on oven trays lined with baking paper. Space them about 2cm apart.
Bake in 180°C oven for 10 -15 mins or until lightly golden (but being short breads they must still be pale in colour).
When they are still warm sprinkle with crushed pistachio nuts.
Cool and store in a tin.

 

There are other pastries and sweets that can be made to order in various sizes. Some ideal ones for Christmas are:
Fresh Fruit tart – think of Australian summer fruit!
Tronco di Natale is a Christmas log (Bûche de Noël), a popular Christmas dessert in many countries of Northern Europe.
Millefoglie, (the French call Mille-Feuille – flaky puff pastry interlayered with a rich chocolate crema in the bottom half and chantilly cream on top. Photo clink on link below:

Millefoglie

There are fruit mince tarts for those who wish to stick to the Anglo tradition.

Marianna and her pastry chefs are having a good time and inventing some sweets with whimsical names, i.e: Rudolph’s Karolina.

 

Tartufo tortina, is not particularly tied to Christmas, but who can resist these?

 

And there are so many more, too many to mention in this post.

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THALASSA: Men and the Sea (Sustainable fishing practices in Sicily and Tuna fishing)

In Greek mythology, Thalassa is a primordial sea goddess, and in Greek thalassa means ‘sea’.

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I found a link to a very interesting documentary set in Syracuse in an online publication called Times of Sicily.

The documentary is called Thalassa: Men of the sea.

The fishermen and fishmongers in the documentary speak mainly in Sicilian ( complete with hand movements and wonderful to see and hear), the marine historians speak in Italian, but there are also English subtitles. Right at the very end there is a message from Oliver Knowles, Greenpeace – this is in English. The documentary strongly supports sustainable fishing practices, the use of marine reserves and expresses concern for the plight of the tuna in the Mediterranean. Although it is fairly long, it is worth watching.

THALASSA – Men and the Sea

Small fishing boats in Syracuse. This photo was taken in 2007 and I wonder if these fishermen are still making a living.

 

From Times of Sicily:

THALASSA — “Uomini e Mare” Men and the Sea (directed & produced by Gianluca Agati, ITA, 26′, 2012) is a documentary offering a glimpse into Siracusa’s history, where the fumes from chemical and petrochemical industries and the relics of ancient tuna fisheries form the background to the stories of fishermen, fishmongers and marine historians.

The work shines a light on the profound economic, social and environmental transformation which Siracusa has experienced since the 1950s, and promotes a return to the consumption of less exploited marine species, which although out of favour with modern consumers, are cheap, nutritious and were a common sight on the tables of older generations.
The project has reinforced its environmental and social message by rejecting all forms of merchandising, making the film available free and accessible to everybody via the website (in Italian) : uominiemare.com.

This documentary has been dedicated to Fernando Pereira (1950 – 1985), Greenpeace activist and photographer drowned after sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.

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SLOW COOKED LEG OF GOAT WITH HOT MINT SAUCE

My friends all seem to enjoy good food and are good cooks; Mandy is no exception. Not all of my friend’s cooking has been represented on my blog; this is not because I have not enjoyed their food, warmth and hospitality, but more because I may not have had a camera or it was inappropriate to take photos when food was about to be served.

This is a photo of a leg of goat that had been marinating in a chemoula my friend Mandy made with a mix of ghee, extra virgin olive oil, some of her own preserved lemons and harissa.  She purchased the goat from friends who like her live on a property near Cowra in New South Wales. Goat is a lean meat and benefits from being larded or having some extra fat added.

 

Mandy placed the meat on a rack in an old fashioned, baking dish (which is a delight in itself). She kept the lid on throughout the cooking time and ensured that there was a bit of water below the rack in the bottom of the baking dish; this provides a bit of steam and keeps the meat from drying out. Marinating the meat beforehand and this method of cooking prevents shrinkage; the meat was very tender, moist and tasty.

Score the surface of the meat in a 1 cm criss-cross pattern to help the marinade penetrate the meat. Preheat the oven to 160c and cook for 6 hours.

Add about ½ cup of water to the pan after the first 30 minutes and then every hour. The juices and the scrapings from the pan made an excellent gravy.

But it is not just the meat that makes a good meal. We ate the meat with silver beet grown in her garden. This was mixed with whole chickpeas and sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, onion, garlic, chilli and cumin.  A tahini dressing (tahini, garlic, salt, oil, lemon juice, cumin and a little warm water) accompanied this dish.

 

We had unpeeled kiffler potatoes roasted in extra virgin olive oil and a bowl of cucumber mixed with yogurt, mint and garlic.

Mandy also made a hot mint sauce using a recipe from Sam and Sam Clark’s Casa Moro, The Second Cookbook. I too have this book and here is the recipe:

INGREDIENTS
4 tablespoon’s extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons good quality sweet red wine vinegar (add a pinch of sugar to normal red wine vinegar or use balsamic)
salt & black pepper
½ a teaspoon caster sugar (optional)

PROCESSES
Place a small saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When it is hot, but not smoking, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until golden brown – stir once or twice to ensure it colours evenly. Add half the mint and all of the cumin. Cook for a further minute then add the red wine vinegar and simmer for 30 seconds more. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining mint. Season and add sugar if needed to balance the flavours. Serve hot.

Goat (capra in Italian), like mutton is the mature beast; kid (capretto in Italian) is the young animal. As a rule Italians prefer to eat kid.

For other kid or goat recipes see previous posts:
KID WITH ALMONDS (SPRING IN SICILY, CAPRETTO CON LE MANDORLE)
SLOW COOKED GOAT IN NERO D’AVOLA

 

And there was more food. We finished off the meal with a rhubarb cake (the rhubarb is also grown in her garden) and accompanied by some of her saffron ice cream made with eggs from her hens. This fantastic meal was prepared by this very busy woman, who could have been spending more time in her studio painting (you can see some of Mandy’s paintings on the wall behind her).

Thank you Mandy, another memorable meal.

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MERCATO, Adelaide, Saturday Cooking Class

MERCATO

Some photographs of cooking demonstrations held at Mercato on Saturday 10th November 2012:

More photos on Mercato’s facebook page.

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MERCATO, Adelaide, Friday Cooking Class

MERCATO
Some photographs of cooking demonstrations held at Mercato on Friday 9th November

Friday 9th.

MORE PHOTOS:

More photos on  Mercato’s Facebook page.

 

 

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PESCE ALLA GHIOTTA (Sicilian Fish, a recipe to satisfy the gluttons)

Wendy is a friend who lives in Ardrossan, a small town on the east coast of the Yorke Peninsula (about 150 km from Adelaide). She and her husband have a boat and they often go fishing. I too have gone fishing on their boat and watched them catch fish, mainly King George Whiting, Squid and Garfish.

To make me jealous and as a subtle way to suggest I should go to visit them, she sent me a photograph of a large Australian Salmon she caught recently; she then sent me more photos of how she cooked it.

Australian Salmon belongs to the perch family (surprisingly it is not a salmon). As you can see from the photo Wendy has filleted the fish. Some people find this fish very fishy, but it lends itself to recipes with strong accompanying flavours.

Wendy chose a recipe from my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking. The recipe is Fish alla ghiotta from Messina and is cooked with tomatoes, green olives, capers, pine nuts and currants (AGGHIOTTA DI PISCI A MISSINISA – PESCE ALLA GHIOTTA ALLA MESSINESE).

 

There are many variations of this dish and this one contains Sicilian flavours in excess –  it is sure to satisfy the gluttons.

Sicilians use piscispata (Sicilian for swordfish; pescespada is the Italian), but any cutlets of firm, large fish cut into thick slices or thick fillets are suitable. I like to buy sustainable seafood and  have used: Flathead, Trevally, Kingfish, Snapper, Mackerel and Barramundi. Obviously Australian Salmon can now be added to this list but in Victoria I have not seen much of this fish.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 x 200g (7oz.) fish steaks or
cutlets
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely sliced
¾ cup salted capers, soaked and washed
1 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup currants, soaked in a little warm water for about 15 minutes
½ cup pine nuts
2 – 3 bay leaves
500g (17oz.) tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (tinned are OK)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

PROCESSES
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a wide pan, large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer. Shallow-fry the fish for a couple of minutes on both sides over medium-high heat to seal. Remove from the pan and set aside.

For la ghiotta, add the celery and onion to the same oil, and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir frequently. Reduce heat to medium, then add the capers, olives, garlic, currants, pine nuts and bay leaves and stir well. Add tomatoes, season, stir, and cook for about ten minutes until some of the juice from the tomatoes has reduced.
Arrange the fish in the sauce in one layer and spoon some of the sauce over it. Cover, and cook on moderate heat until the fish is done.

Thank you Wendy for all of these wonderful photos and I am so glad that you enjoyed it.

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