Provencal Fish in Parchment

Ever since people discovered fire and started cooking, foods that weren’t great candidates for roasting over an open flame – like sides of meat- were probably protected by some kind of wrapper: banana leaves, plant husks, pieces of animal fat or whatever happened to be handy and available.

The method of enclosing food in a parchment paper package, en papillote, is ingenious when you think about it.  Every ingredient in the package steams and bastes in its own juices, enhancing taste and preserving nutrients. It’s pure, simple and maybe best of all there’s no pan to clean! Well, not counting the baking sheet…

This recipe layers essential Provençal flavors of tomatoes, fennel and garlic. I like to use delicate, quicker-cooking fish like sole, snapper or sea bass. Combined with vegetables the whole package cook in just 10 minutes, and the resulting light, buttery sauce is deliciously like bouillabaisse. Serve the fish packages with some crusty bread alongside to enjoy every drop of the sauce.

Provencal Fish in Parchment

Serving Size: serves 4


1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons olive oil


1 fresh fennel bulb, stems trimmed and fronds reserved

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 small white onion, very thinly sliced

1 pound sole fillets

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves

4 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons anise-flavored liqueur such as Pernod or Ricard


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Toss the tomatoes with the garlic, fennel seed, 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl.
  3. Remove the tough outer layer from the fennel bulb. Thinly shave the fennel with a mandoline or a sharp knife and combine in another bowl with the remaining teaspoon oil, pinch of salt, lemon juice and the onion.
  4. Fold 4 pieces of parchment paper (12 x 17 inches) in half, then open them flat on a work surface. Place some of the tomatoes (about ¼ cup) on the sheet to one side of the fold. Place a portion of sole over the tomatoes; season the sole with salt and top with the fennel mixture, some tarragon, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon of the Pernod if using.
  5. Fold the parchment to close. Starting at a corner, make overlapping pleated folds all around to form a half-moon shaped package.
  6. Repeat the process with the remaining sheets of parchment, tomatoes, sole, fennel, tarragon, butter and Pernod. (The packages can be prepared ahead and refrigerated up to 4 hours in advance of baking).
  7. Place the packages on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Transfer the packages to serving plates and cut open with scissors – sprinkle the fish with reserved fennel fronds and serve immediately.

Sicilian Lifeguard Squid with Couscous

I have one thing to ask of you  - please don’t be squeamish about eating squid. I know these bottomfeeding creatures look a bit freaky with their tentacles and all, but squid deserve a more elevated place on your daily menu.

I’ve compiled a short list of good-to-know facts about these tasty cephalopods to help you in your journey toward squiddy-liciousness. Squid are:

* Cheap! They cost less per pound than seafood, poultry or red meat
* Low in fat, high in lean protein
* FAST to cook – in less than 3 minutes
* Hornier than Hugh Hefner; they have frenzied mating orgies

Mario Batali’s recipe for Two-Minute Calamari, Sicilian Lifeguard Style appears in his Babbo cookbook, which I was compelled to make the other night. I’m not clear on whether this recipe is acutally traditional in Sicily; I’m thinking Mario was going for a sexy title. He explains that pine nuts, currants, capers and chiles put a “hot and sour Arabic kiss” on the squid. Sounds good to me.

Later, I Googled around and found Melissa Clark’s version of the recipe, which turned out to be very much how I had made it, sans currants (maybe Sicilian in character, but not so appealing to me), and including spinach since I had some.

Sicilian Lifeguard Squid with Couscous

Serving Size: serves 4 - 6


2 cups canned diced or crushed tomatoes

3 gloves garlic

Handful fresh basil leaves

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large shallot or small onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup capers in brine, drained

1 1/2 pounds cleaned squid bodies and tentacles, sliced 1/2-inch wide

2 cups baby spinach leaves

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 scallions, chopped

2 cups cooked Israeli pearl couscous


  1. Puree the tomatoes, garlic and basil in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  2. Heat the oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, pine nuts and red pepper and cook until the nuts are golden, stirring frequently; about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan and bring to a simmer before adding the capers and squid. Cover and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, just until the squid is completely opaque. Stir in the spinach until it wilts. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and toss in the scallions.
  4. Serve over warm couscous.

Smoky Shrimp Chowder with Chicken Andouille

Hearty shrimp chowder with Cajun flavors
Hearty shrimp chowder with Cajun flavors

My son J is a third grader and doesn’t seem to be growing out of his picky-eater stage.

I’m always slightly embarrassed to admit that there are nights when I make the poor kid cry; he’ll come into the kitchen and ask what we’re having for dinner, and more than likely it’s not what he’s really hoping for: a Steak ‘n Shake cheeseburger or his all-time favorite home-cooked meal, Pasta Carbonara. That’s when his outraged tears flow and I feel like  throwing in my cooking towel.

I mean, I go to all the trouble to make family dinners from scratch and he breaks down and sobs as if he’s being tortured? I have to remind myself that this is a stage he will grow out of soon enough. How nice that there is already a hopeful sign that he’s well on the way to expanding his culinary horizons: the boy loves soup.

For some reason, he will happily devour most of the foods he detests if there are in the form of soup, so I’ve taken to hauling out the old tureen lately. It’s nice that the autumn weather is finally here -  hot soup is something we all like to eat on a busy weeknight. We’ve had versions of our favorite Roasted Sweet Potato Soup along with plain old chicken noodle.

I have to admit that he did pick the shrimp out of this chowder (more for us!)  but he lapped the remains of his bowl greedily.

Now I better start thinking about the next thing I can turn into soup before he catches on!

Smoky Shrimp Chowder with Chicken Andouille

Serving Size: 4 - 6 servings


2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 leek, white and light green portions, sliced

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 pound chicken andouille sausage, sliced

1 teaspoon (or more to taste) Cajun seasoning blend

4 cups chicken broth

3/4 pound diced potatoes

1 cup whole milk

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Fine sea salt, cayenne and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat the oil or butter in a large pot or heavy saucepan. Add the leeks and garlic and cook over medium-low heat until softened, stirring occasionally. Stir in the thyme, andouille and Cajun seasoning and cook until sausage is seared on all sides.
  2. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil; add the potatoes and slightly cover the pot. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. When the potatoes are done, pour in milk and bring to a gentle simmer; if it gets too thick add more stock or water.
  4. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink.
  5. Taste the chowder for seasoning and add salt, black or cayenne pepper to taste.