Spring is here, and it's time to put away winter's braises and stews in favor of lighter fare that reflects the new season. To help get you started on your spring entertaining plans, Mark Ladner, executive chef of Grand Award-winning restaurant Del Posto in New York has come up with an easy, elegant recipe for whole-roasted fish, stuffed with aromatic fennel and accompanied by peperonata (a piquant pepper and tomato jam). And, with the help of Del Posto's wine director, Morgan Rich, we've provided a list of recommended white wines in a variety of price points to match with the dish. Rich suggests choosing California Sauvignon Blancs or whites from the Rhône, explaining that the dish calls for "a medium-bodied white with some concentration that can stand up to the fennel, the fish and the condiment without overpowering them."
Whole-Roasted Fish with Fennel and Peperonata
For the fish:
• 1 3- to 4-pound whole fish (sea bass, sea bream or any other mild, firm-fleshed white fish), scaled and gutted by your fishmonger
• Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, plus fronds, removed and reserved
• 1 preserved lemon, thinly sliced (maybe substitute fresh lemon)
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (preferably from Liguria)
1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Rinse fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Season with salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff the body cavity with the fennel fronds and sliced lemon.
3. Arrange the fennel bulb slices in an overlapping single layer on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the fish on top of the fennel. Drizzle the fish and fennel with half of the oil. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature, measured with an instant-read thermometer, registers 140° F at the thickest part of the fish's body.
4. Remove the lemon slices and fennel fronds from the body cavity and discard. Fillet the cooked fish, drizzle each portion with some of the remaining oil, season with salt to taste and serve with the roasted fennel and peperonata alongside (recipe to follow). Serves 4.
For the peperonata:
• 1 pound canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped (Ladner uses piennolo tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius, and imported by Casa Barone; may substitute any good-quality canned tomatoes without skins)
• 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped, or 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons dried chile flakes
• 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (preferably from Liguria)
• 1 medium white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
• 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
• Kosher salt to taste
• 10 ounces piquillo peppers (beak-shaped red peppers from northern Spain that are roasted, peeled and preserved; may substitute 2 whole roasted and peeled red bell peppers), coarsely chopped
• 1 salted anchovy fillet (optional)
• Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. In a saucepot over medium-high heat, combine the tomatoes, lemon, vinegar and chile flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has the consistency of ketchup, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, fennel, garlic and salt to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid appears, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers and anchovy, if using, and cook 5 more minutes, until the onion, fennel and garlic begin to turn red.
3. Strain the onion and pepper mixture, retaining the liquid. Add the liquid to the tomato mixture. Return tomato mixture to low heat and stir until dry, about five minutes.
4. In a large bowl, combine the pepper mixture and tomato mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Serves 4.
CALIFORNIA SAUVIGNON BLANC