Baked Cod with Potatoes and Fennel
Nothing Fishy About This Dish!
Nothing fishy about this, folks! The importance of fish (pesce) on the Italian Table cannot be underestimated. The story of Italians and the sea dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Surrounded by the bountiful Mediterranean, Italy has given birth to a legacy of some of the oldest preparations of seafood which have repeated through the ages. Today’s subject, Fish With Potatoes and Fennel or Pesce Con Patate e Finocchio is one such preparation – shining in its simplicity, showcasing the taste of the sea, using a handful of fresh ingredients. It is similar to a recipe used in the Grosseto area of Tuscany. You can only imagine this dish, which oozes fresh flavors, going from the boat to the table in a matter of minutes. This is what all Italian fish dishes are meant to be – simple, easy, fresh, and healthy.
About Fish and Italians: Fish has been a staple of the Italian diet for centuries – in part, because of the long coastline giving 15 of the 20 regions access to the sea, and also because of the vibrant trading ports all along the coast – most specifically Venice and Genoa. Read more about this from “Eating Fish in Italy” by Martha Bakerjian. Every region had its specialties. Every family had its legacy of recipes handed down for generations. In the Calabrisi household, fish played a prominent role at our Italian table. Like most other Italians of the time, we did not eat meat on Fridays or on other days of abstinence, especially during Lent. In addition, my father, Attilio, loved to fish – in both fresh and saltwater. As a result, we always had many different types of fish stocked in the freezer from his fishing trips up and down the Eastern seacoast. The preparations varied: fried, grilled, baked, sauteed, broiled, boiled, in sauces for pastas – you name it – he cooked it.
About this dish: Today’s dish, reminiscent of one of his baked seafood specialties, Fish With Potatoes and Fennel, can be prepared with any fresh firm white fish: Branzino, Cod, Sea Bass, Swordfish, Flounder and others. I have chosen fresh Cod as it is so popular in Italian fish dishes. An added benefit is that it is not as costly as some of the others. Cod can be found on the scene in Italy as far back as the 1500’s. Back then, it was often suggested to BEAT the salted version of this fish – literally with a stick. Assuming that your aggressions do not need satisfying to that degree, we’ll use the fresh Cod as opposed to salted – fresh, easy, quick, and oh so delicious. Cod absorbs flavors well, is not fishy, and is tender.
Got about 20 minutes? That is all it will take to prepare this healthy little number before it goes into the oven. The result will be a beautiful presentation in technicolor. My close-up, Mr. De Mille?
FISH WITH POTATOES AND FENNEL
(PESCE CON PATATE E FINOCCHIO)
Serves 4 (approx.)
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cook time :20-25 minutes
1 1/2 lb fresh firm white fish( cod – My Choice, sea bass, swordfish, branzino, flounder etc.)
2-3 Potatoes – boiled til just fork tender and sliced
Olive Oil for drizzling
1 Fennel Bulb – sliced
(You can substitute Onion for Fennel if you like but – Fennel is much nicer in this and adds more flavor.)
2 Tbsp Olive oil to saute Fennel
3/4 c. White wine
1 Tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves
1 Tbsp Orange Zest
3-4 Tbsp Seasoned Breadcrumbs
2-3 Ripe Fresh Tomatoes sliced
1 Orange Peeled and sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for an ending drizzle
1. Oil a baking dish.
2. Arrange your boiled, sliced potatoes in bottom of oiled baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper – drizzle a little oil.
3. Slice Fennel bulb as in our past post using fennel . Saute in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until tender. This takes about 10-12 minutes. It will appear slightly golden
4. Lay sliced Fennel over potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Place fish over the Fennel.
6. Add wine to the dish.
7. Drizzle a little olive oil over the fish and then add some salt and pepper.
8. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and orange zest.
9. Sprinkle dry breadcrumbs over the top.
10. Lay tomato slices and orange slices in any pattern you like on the top and add salt and pepper.
11. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Garnish with your fresh Basil. A drizzle of Extra Virgin and Serve.
Serving: Remember to sprinkle the salt and pepper on each layer. It is important to season Fish With Potatoes and Fennel thoroughly as it builds. I like to drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the top just before serving. This gives the top a nice sheen after cooking at a high temperature as well as adding another layer of flavor. This healthy dish with its fresh ingredients goes from oven to table, takes very little time and effort to prepare, and the presentation is lovely. A green vegetable or salad would be a perfect companion here.
My tip: Now if you were me – when the weather gets a little nicer – you’d be sneaking this one out On the Patio with maybe a little fire in the pit on a beautiful balmy spring evening with my first choice for Italian white wine with seafood – Falanghina – a full bodied white that doesn’t fade. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography