If you’re like me, getting out to a restaurant in the middle of the week can be tricky. The hours don’t line up if you or your spouse are working late or the idea of sitting down for two hours in a restaurant is not that appealing. Frankly, sometimes it’s just easier to put together a quick mid-week dinner and retire to the couch. With the holiday falling on Thursday, you might just want to do that and save the night out for Friday or Saturday.
I have a few ideas for you today, but want to first say that each component to this dinner can be changed to your taste. That will make sense in a bit – but lets start with the main ingredient: fish. Fish is one of the easiest things to prepare in my opinion. The key is to make sure you are getting it from the best purveyor and that it is fresh. If it smells just a little bit off or feels spongy, move on. I get just about all my fish from Lou Pirilli at Port Chester Seafood. Not only is the quality great, but he is so accommodating; finding and ordering just about anything I need. I chose flounder for this dinner, but sole, snapper or branzino would work just as well. You need a relatively thin filet that can be rolled easily.
Stuffed flounder … hearing that I get visions of thick breaded crabmeat filling that has been overly seasoned with Bay spices. It ranks up there as one of my least favorite dishes; and I don’t have many. The lovely light tasting filet is overpowered by a dense filling that basically will roll right off the plate. Instead I prefer to fill mine with thinly sliced vegetables that have been tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The fish is only going to cook for about 10 minutes, so the key is to make your vegetables thin.
More after the jump …
I happened to have a nice big sweet potato in my wire basket, but a russet potato will work just as well. You want to have something for the flounder to nestle into on the plate. I popped mine in the oven to bake, but you can easily microwave it too. Once the center was nice and soft I mashed it with a little olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.
Larry likes, well loves, green vegetables. We both happen to adore broccoli raab, but for this part of the dish you can go with just about any vegetable. I like to blanche my broccoli, a cooking technique that will assure your vegetable stays nice an bright. Simply put a small pot of water on to boil and add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt for each quart of water. While you wait for the water to boil, get a large bowl ready with ice water. I cook broccoli and cauliflower florets for 2 minutes, haricots and asparagus for 1 minute – no more, no less. Pull them out immediately and place in the ice bath. This will “shock” the vegetable and stop the cooking process. Drain completely and place back in the bowl. We both like our veggies prepared this way at room temperature or just slightly warm, and tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Just keep in mind that as soon as you drizzle with lemon juice or vinegar it will start to the turn the green veggies a little dark.
Once you get all that going you can get back to your salad. We both like salads to start a meal. They get your taste buds going with a nice fresh kick. Generally speaking I make our salads just about the same: romaine lettuce, cherry tomato, avocado and orange segments. Our favorite vinaigrette is olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Why mess with perfection? If I happen to have some croutons in the cabinet they go on too .. but not a necessity.
While I was picking up the flounder I happened to hit the shop at just the right time. Lou had just gotten in Sweet Maine Shrimp. They are absolutely delicious.I decided to add them to the salad, after marinading in the afternoon with lemon and lime juice, red onion and a thai chili. It was a nice additional ingredient and worked beautifully with the overall dinner.
Last but, not least, dessert. In keeping with my easy recipe theme, this one could not be simpler. It’s literally five ingredients: strawberries, soft ladyfingers, a good thick balsamic, sugar and chocolate. I always have those little Ferraro Rocher candies in the cabinet. I can’t say the two of us eat them randomly, they are there mainly for Elinor. She loves them, and I would always send them in her care packages to college. I dug around and found a few to add to this dessert, but any chocolate will do.
The ladyfingers can be found at the grocery store usually near the fresh strawberries. They are soft and spongey, so no pre-dipping necessary. One cup of sliced strawberries was enough for the two of us. To that I added 1 tablespoon of a really good and thick balsamic and 1 tablespoon of sugar. I let that sit on the counter while we ate dinner. It sounds like a crazy combination, but trust me, very delicious. Just before serving I gave the berries a little mash with a fork and divided over the lady fingers. I sprinkled with the roughly chopped Rocher candies (three was the perfect amount for 2 dishes) and topped with the lady fingers. I had a little piece of dark chocolate and grated that over top for garnish. If you really want to live on the edge, add a little freshly whipped cream or vanilla gelato. If going with the whipped cream step it up and make it fresh – you’ve already committed yourself to this lovely dinner, skip the can this time!
I hope this inspires you to make a simple and romantic dinner at home this coming Valentine’s Day, or any day of the week.
A quick and romantic dinner for two, any night of the week.
- 1 large sweet potato, about 1/2-3/4 lb, peeled and cut in 6 pieces
- 2 flounder filets, about ½ lb
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 1 small zucchini, cut into matchstick slices
- ½ bell pepper, cut onto matchstick slices
- 2 scallion, cut into thin slices
- 1 lemon
- ¼ cup fresh parsley and basil, roughly chopped
- Balsamic vinegar
- Chives or scallion sliced thin for garnish
- Blanched vegetable of your choice
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the potato with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 10 minutes or until they are very soft. Remove from oven and place in an oven proof bowl.
- While the sweet potato is cooking prep your flounder. Place the vegetables in a small bowl and season with olive oil and ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. You should have about 1 cup of vegetables.
- Lay the filet on a cutting board and season both sides with a drizzle of olive and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Place rounded side of the filet down on the board. That is a prettier side for the finished dish. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the fresh herbs on each filet and a few grates of lemon zest. Position the vegetables across the filet and starting with the narrow end roll into a packet. Repeat the same for the other filet.
- Place in a small baking dish brushed with a little olive to keep them from sticking, and bake for 10 minutes.
- While the fish is baking go back to the sweet potatoes and drizzle with a tablespoon each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Whip with a wooden spoon, and taste for seasoning. Feel free to add a little more balsamic if you desire. Cover with foil and place back in the oven for the last 5 minutes the fish is cooking to keep them warm.
- To plate the dish: divide the potatoes between the two plates and set the flounder bundle on to the potato. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and chives. Serve with your favorite blanched vegetable (see below).
- BLANCHING Vegetables: Bring a small pot of water on to boil and add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt for each quart of water.
- While the water comes to boil, get a large bowl ready with ice water.
- Cook time: broccoli and cauliflower florets for 2 minutes, haricots verts, snap peas and asparagus for 1 minute.
- Pull them out immediately and place in the ice bath. This will "shock" the vegetable and stop the cooking process. Drain completely and place back in the bowl tossing with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Just keep in mind that as soon as you drizzle with lemon juice or vinegar it will start to the turn the green veggies a little dark.
- Serve at room temperature or warmed slightly.
Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She’s an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.