Caesar Roasted Striped Bass

Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, and her cookbooks are already a source of guidance for basic recipes but her show serves as my inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts.  So now that I’ve got the essentials down it’s time to branch out. I’ll choose a recipe from an episode of the Barefoot Contessa to try in my tiny New York kitchen. We’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

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Episode: “Going Local”

The Set-up: Ina is writing an article and has challenged herself to make a three course dinner using only locally produced ingredients.

The Menu: Roasted Eggplant Caponata, Caesar Roasted Striped Bass, Fresh Peach Cake

0:53 – Ina’s talking about making the shift from menu to seasonal ingredients vs. using what’s available to determine what you’ll serve.

1:20 – First up: the Eggplant Caponata. Apparently roasting eggplant is a dangerous undertaking – if it isn’t trying to explode in the oven it’s doing its best to slide off the baking sheet. Slippery little suckers. And now I’m having a Pretty Woman escargot in the fancy restaurant flashback.

2:18 – Ina got her eggplant from the Green Thumb Farm market and the owners made a video about their business. I think the farm stand manager, Jo, might have a second career as a demonstrator on QVC. She has the right sing-song voice for it.

3:32 – I’m not familiar with caponata but it seems to be the Sicilian version – olives, pine nuts, etc. – of baba ghanoush. I must have nothing but ridiculous movie quotes on the brain today – now it’s Wedding Crashers. “Baba ghanouush!!”

4:56 – Ina’s adding lemon juice and white wine vinegar to give the caponata some acid. The Barefoot Contessa doesn’t truck with bland.

6:08 – Mmmm, home made pita chips.

9:34 – Onward to the Peach Cake course!

9:44 – The eggs and the peaches for the cake come from Amber Waves Farm – two tiny acres which appear to be run by J. Crew models – and Amagansett Farmers Market, part of the Eli Zabar empire.

11:03 – Pro-tip: when eggs are really fresh the yolks stand up firmly.

14:26 – This peach cake looks so good. Ina doesn’t say that it’s coffee cake, but with the layers of peaches and cinnamon sugar it looks pretty darn close.

18:10 – Ina’s making Caesar Roasted Striped Bass and just to round out my un-official theme of pairing movie quotes I give you: a little Dumb and Dumber…”What’s the [fish] du jour?” “It’s the [fish] of the day.”

19:28 – More video – this one is from Stewart, the fisherman who caught the bass. I doubt that Ina’s seen Dumb and Dumber, but if Stewart’s dreadlocks are any indication I’m POSITIVE that he has it memorized.

21:35 – Time to make the Caesar dressing. Ina doesn’t say so, but this looks like a great option for a weeknight dinner or low impact dinner party. I think the total prep time was about 15 minutes.

23:14 – She just added ‘frizzled’ capers to the roasted fish. Maybe only serve this to people who won’t be offended if you offer a breath mint at the end of the meal….?

24:26 – Group photo! “Just like at camp!” I’m guessing that food at camp will be the plot of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3: Revenge of the Commissary.

27:00 – “Ask Ina” time and the theme is vegetables. Ripe avocados, cucumbers, mushrooms, and broccolini are the topics of viewer questions.

28:41 – Ina has such a talent for answering simple questions without making the ask-er seem silly for asking them. I think I learn something every time she does this feature.

29:01 – In a nutshell: when the skin of Haas avocados are brown then they’re ripe, scoop the seeds out from English cucumbers for better texture in recipes, wipe mushrooms clean, don’t soak or rinse them; broccolini can be cooked the same way as regular broccoli. And scene.

Final Thoughts:
Ina’s strategy of letting seasonal ingredients inspire her menus is smart – I should do that more often.
I wonder how many cooking tips I’ve picked up from watching this show? Has Ina taught me everything I know?
I bet J. Crew shoots its next style guide at Amber Waves. Rural chic.

Caesar Roasted Salmon; Image:  Laura Messersmith

Caesar Roasted Salmon; Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

The hardest part of making the Caesar Roasted Striped Bass was sourcing the ingredients. Striped bass was difficult to come by in my local grocery store (I used salmon instead since Ina recommended pairing the sauce with a full flavored fish) and it took a little hunting to find anchovy paste – but once I located everything the recipe came together quite quickly. The cooking mainly consists of mixing the Caesar sauce and is definitely small kitchen friendly: a food processor, one cutting board, one small sauté pan, a baking sheet, and a few simple kitchen tools. Really, really easy and the final product looks impressive – the frizzled capers perhaps? Extra bonus: I followed Ina’s recommendation to line the baking sheet with foil, which made clean up really easy.

The Verdict:

Both my husband and I both liked this dish, but thought the sauce was a little heavy. To be honest it's not a dish I would normally gravitate toward if it were on a restaurant menu in the first place, so I'm glad I decided to balance out the richer flavors of the Caesar sauce and salmon by serving roasted asparagus. I could see making this again with another type of fish; perhaps we would like it better.