Everyone has one — a lazy Sunday morning and afternoon, where time slips away and the world comes to a standstill, where nothing really matters and you just want to stay in bed … until a nagging desire to be social again strikes and you try feverishly to assemble last-minute dinner plans.
This is a meal for those days. Fresh, simple and quick, and yet so full of flavor. It is nouveau cuisine for the everyday, a “cuisine gourmande” for even the least mindful of cooks.
The inspirations are simple … a good chef draws from what is available and in season, paying heed only to those vegetables and products that catch his eye for their natural beauty and “placed-ness” at that moment in the market. Wandering aimlessly through the aisles of the store, he ignores inquiries of assistance and favors intuition — not only what looks good, but what seems the very best. And of those products, what goes together?
How does one construct a dish? Many a time, it’s color alone that serves as the perfect indicator. Here’s a painterly landscape on a plate: The gray and black skin of the haddock, flecked with green, set against its own white flesh. The flecks of green are duplicated and expanded upon: flat parsley leaves, delicately plucked and stewed in olive oil and water with shallots and garlic. Then sweet snowpeas and floral Muscat grapes are added to the mixture, providing a base to steam the fish and marry the harmonious ingredients.
1 pound of fresh haddock or similar firm whitefish, cut into portioned squares
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
2 shallots, minced
1 1/2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound of snowpeas
10 green cabbage leaves
1 bunch of Muscat grapes, destemmed
Steam or gently boil the cabbage leaves until barely tender and flexible. Add to a pan with a few drops of water and juice from the lemon, heat again and then whisk in the butter to form a light sauce.
In a wide skillet, heat olive oil. Add minced shallots and garlic and cook until translucent and fragrant. Add snowpeas and parsley leaves and saute for a minute; add a half-glass of water and the Muscat grapes and continue cooking. When peas are tender, add haddock portions, placing them atop the peas and covering the pan so that the fish steams. The fish is done when it barely starts to flake and is still full of moisture.
To plate, place a haddock square in the center of a dish, then cover with a buttery cabbage leaf. Top with snowpeas and grapes and spoonfuls of each “sauce” — the collected butter- and olive oil-inflected liquid at the bottom of each pan. Season with salt; the sweetness of the peas, the complex acidity of the cooked grapes and the delicate fattiness of the sauces naturally evoke fragrant white wine, perfuming the soft whitefish.