Setting a Fresh Table for Spring

A great recipe from a Grand Award-winning chef, plus eight white wines to match
Apr 6, 2009

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.


RODNEY STRONG Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County Charlotte's Home 2007 Score: 88 | $14
Tangy, with a vivid, mouthwatering intensity to the light-bodied lemon-lime, tropical and peach flavors. The flavors amplify on the juicy finish. Drink now. 52,500 cases made. —M.W.

DUCKHORN Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2007 Score: 87 | $27
Well-balanced and proportioned, offering ripe pear, peach and candied citrus flavors, a rich texture and a terrific juiciness. Drink now. 25,889 cases made. —M.W.

BONTERRA Sauvignon Blanc Lake-Mendocino Counties 2007 Score: 86 | $14
Lemon-lime flavors are ripe and tasty, showing good intensity and focus, with herb, melon and spice highlights. There's a refreshing acidity running through this. Drink now. 21,000 cases made. —M.W.

FETZER Sauvignon Blanc California Valley Oaks 2007 Score: 86 | $9
Intense and zingy, showing mouthwatering orange, lemon and green apple flavors, with some notes of fresh-cut grass and lime zest on the finish. Drink now. 105,000 cases made. —M.W.


E. GUIGAL Condrieu 2007 Score: 91 | $55
Very juicy and still a touch compact, with green almond, fig and anise notes waiting to come out from behind the fennel and mineral. Long finish. Cellar short term to let this open up. Best from 2009 through 2011. 9,165 cases made. —J.M.

PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ Crozes-Hermitage White Domaine Mule Blanche 2007 Score: 91 | $35
Rich but racy, with a nice tightly wound core of white peach, melon, heather and star fruit notes backed up by a solid, minerally spine. The finish is long and powerful. Should unwind nicely in the short term. Roussanne and Marsanne. Drink now through 2011. 2,191 cases made. —J.M.

E. GUIGAL Crozes-Hermitage White 2007 Score: 88 | $26
Quite rich and forward, with macadamia nut, Jonagold apple, melon and butter notes that carry through the long, creamy finish. Drink now through 2009. 4,580 cases made. —J.M.

E. GUIGAL Côtes du Rhône White 2007 Score: 86 | $14
Shows dried pineapple, yellow apple and pear notes, with a fresh, floral-tinged finish. Drink now. 29,165 cases made. —J.M.

Cooking Spring White Wines Sauvignon Blanc Recipes

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