If you’re anything like me, your fridge is swimming with zucchini and corn, your counters teeming with beautiful tomatoes. Not that I’m complaining, mind you — I wouldn’t dare, with summer produce this close to done — I’m just saying, I’ve got three bumper crops and I don’t even have a garden. What’s a girl to do?
Not fret, that’s for sure. I’ve found countless] great sources for ideas to use up the big three. Not to mention the inner-workings of my own crazy imagination…which led to this summer vegetable (and fish) stew. The fish in () because it’s optional. (Not that everything in this recipe isn’t optional — hell, you could change the stew entirely for all I care — but I’ve been told by my friends that I need to be more assertive and instructive, less “just do what you want”ish. I’m trying.) You want to know a secret? I didn’t plan on making this a fish stew at all. I planned on making braised zucchini-ratatouille dish, then pan-frying some turbot fillets and laying them nicely on top. All went as planned, until I flipped my fillets (which were doing beautifully in a generous helping of browned butter). I’d hoped for them to have a nice, crisp browned crust, but instead the grains had separated and stuck to the bottom of the pan and it didn’t look pretty at all. For your sake — so that you wouldn’t have to look at a picture of a yummy-ugly dish — I took the ratatouille, tossed it right back in the pan, and started spearing the fillets with my spatula to break them up a bit. As I finished them off in the ratatouille, they started to break down a bit, forming a nice-looking stew. I served the stew (to myself and D) with a slice of good, crusty sourdough, which proved ideal for mopping up the juices at the bottom of my bowl. What started as a mistake ended…quite nicely, if you ask me.
I also want to take a moment and pay homage to the humble celery. I often hate on celery, having disliked its taste when raw for quite some time, and having dreaded those ants-on-a-log snacks as a kid. I buy it almost never — in fact, the last time I bought it was probably in college. But I had a bunch left over from the caponata, and I thought that since this stew was a clean-the-fridge stew anyway, could adding a little celery hurt? No, it most certainly couldn’t. And sure enough, celery’s flavor was awesome in the stew. Can I describe how so? Nope. Maybe you should try it and see for yourself?
Summer vegetable (and fish) stew
- olive oil
- 2 stalks celery, minced
- 1/2 a yellow onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- carrot, if you’d like (I didn’t have any but a handful minced would do)
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 bay leaf, optional
- 1 zucchini or yellow squash, or three of those small summer squash, cut vertically into thick slices
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 2 fillets turbot or other white, mild fish (total a bit more than half a pound)
<1/2 cup liquid (stock, wine, and water will all work)
In a heavy bottomed saute pan over medium heat, add a few Tbsp. of olive oil, and sweat the onion and garlic until very aromatic and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add bay leaf, celery, and carrots, if using, and continue to cook until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add zucchini/squash and saute until browned, about 4 minutes. Add tomato, stir to incorporate, and add a bit of your liquid of choice, to scrape up the little bits that have gathered on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to add liquid gradually, cooking for an additional 3-4 minutes until it all comes together. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and wipe out pan. (If you’re not adding the fish, taste and adjust, and serve.)
Blot fillets dry with paper towels and season liberally. Heat the butter in the same pan over medium heat until bubbly and starting to brown. Add fillets. Once in the pan, don’t move them around all too much — you want them to develop color and crispness. After about 2 minutes, flip. At this point, if yours turn out as mine did, there’ll be little brown bits of fish deliciousness, and that’s ok. Start cutting into the fish with your spatula, breaking up the fillets into smaller pieces. Then add the vegetables back into the pan, toss to mix, and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes until fish is fully cooked (but not too cooked), and serve in big, homey bowls with nice, crusty sourdough bread. YUM.