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8 & $20: Roasted Stuffed Fish with Sautéed Spinach

Branzino with tomatoes, lemons and olives gets a lift from a vibrant white wine
Photo by: Greg Hudson
Look for a white wine with lively acidity to balance the tomatoes and lemons in this dish.

Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Posted: February 27, 2018

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

Whole roasted fish makes a dramatic centerpiece at the table, yet it’s incredibly easy. As far as methods of cooking fish go, it’s fairly foolproof—and healthy too.

If you’re intimidated by the idea of cleaning a whole fish and preparing it for cooking, don’t sweat it—your fishmonger can speedily take care of all that for you. Once you get the fish home, just fill it with a few flavorful ingredients and let it cook in the oven. Branzino, which is typically sustainably farmed, has mild, white, flaky flesh and is particularly good for roasting or grilling whole, which keeps the meat moist and tender.

While the fish is roasting, I use the time to make a really quick side, such as sautéed spinach. The added pop of color on the plate makes for a beautiful meal.

I expected the roasted fish to be versatile when it came to pairing with white wines. The lemons and the tomatoes give the dish a lot of acidity, so it is important to select a wine that has at least as much acidity as the food; otherwise it can taste flat. I picked two high-acid grape varieties—a Sauvignon Blanc from the Touraine appellation in the Loire Valley and an Albariño from Rías Baixas in Spain.

The Sauvignon Blanc offered a spectrum of citrus notes, as well as light grassy and herbal elements. The Albariño had bright notes of peach, with lemon accents and a briny finish. Both worked really well, complementing the food in different ways. My husband slightly preferred the Sauvignon Blanc, as he felt it matched the vegetal notes in the dish and held onto its varietal characteristics well. On the other hand, I liked how the briny detail in the Albariño accentuated the flavor of the olives. It’s hard to go wrong with either!

Roasted Stuffed Branzino with Sautéed Spinach


Pair with an Albariño from Spain, such as Bodegas Martín Codax Albariño Rias Baixas 2016 (88 points, $12) or a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, such as Paul Buisse Sauvignon Touraine 2016 (87 points, $13).


Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes
Total time: 45 to 55 minutes
Approximate food costs: $31

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sliced black olives
  • 2 whole branzini, descaled and cleaned (2 to 2 1/2 pounds total)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 6–8 ounces fresh spinach
  • Salt
  • Pepper

  • Toothpicks

1. Preheat oven to 425° F.

2. In a large pan or pot over medium heat, sweat diced onion and sliced garlic in a little olive oil with a pinch of salt until soft and translucent, about 12 to 15 minutes.

3. Remove about 1/4 cup of the onion mixture and transfer to another bowl. Turn off the heat and set aside the pan with the remaining onions.

4. Combine the 1/4 cup of onions with the olives and add salt and pepper to taste. Fill the cavity of each fish with half the onion mixture and 2 to 3 tomato slices. Close the fish and secure with toothpicks. Transfer the fish to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the pan with a little olive oil. Brush the skin of the fish with olive oil as well and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter the remaining tomatoes and all but one lemon wedge on the pan. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the flesh is opaque and the fish is fully cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. If you’d like to crisp the skin further, put the pan under the broiler for an a minute or two.

5. While the fish roasts, return the pan with the onions to the stove. Add the spinach to the pan and squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon wedge on top. Cover and cook over medium heat until the leaves are wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Keep warm until the fish is ready.

6. Mound the spinach onto a large platter. Carefully transfer the branzini on top and surround with the roasted tomatoes and lemons. Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetite.

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