This recipe is loosely based on Bon Appétit’s Flounder Poached in Fennel-Tomato Sauce, a dish that is easy enough for a weeknight, but pretty enough to serve (and impress) guests. My version, too, is comforting and fortifying against the cold, but not at all heavy. My suggestion is to use the very best seafood you can source–for me, that means whatever the fishmonger currently has in rotation at the farmers market. (This recipe is adaptable, so feel free to use the seafood you prefer.) Use your favorite simple tomato sauce; I love the marinara from Central Valley Farm. The longest part of this recipe is sautéing all the vegetables, which you can do up to a day ahead, if you want. To make the dish even more substantial, feel free to add other cooked vegetables like carrots, fennel, potatoes, or dark greens; or white beans or chickpeas. —Cristina Sciarra
1 white onion
1 head garlic
2 small bunches broccolini
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
1 quart tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pound shell-on wild shrimp (a half-handful more, if you are using shell off)
Before you get started, prep all the vegetables: peel the onion, halve it lengthwise, and then cut each half crosswise into slices roughly 1/3-inch (1 centimeter) thick. Peel each garlic clove, and then mince. Wash and dry the broccolini. Roughly chop, starting at the flowery end, and stopping when you reach about halfway down the stalk. (The stems can certainly be saved and used for something else. Here, I find them a bit stringy.)
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, and cook until soft and golden, about 20 minutes. (I typically add splashes of water to the pan as I go, to prevent the onions from burning.) Set the onions aside in a bowl. And another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and simmer the garlic; this should only take 45 seconds-1 minute. Wait until the garlic is fragrant, but not browned. Remove the garlic to the same bowl as the onions. Finally, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, along with 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and a splash of water. Cook the broccolini until it is tender, but still bright, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the broccolini to a separate bowl.
In the same Dutch oven you used to cook the vegetables, heat the tomato sauce over medium-low heat. Add the onions, garlic, fennel seeds, as well as the remaining red pepper flakes. Allow the sauce to simmer together for 5-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the shells from the shrimp. (You may reserve the shells to make a quick shrimp stock, or saute with butter and a splash of white wine– delicious stirred into pasta.) De-vein the shrimp, and then rinse under cold water and pat them dry. Rinse the monkfish gently under cold water, and pat dry. Season the monkfish all over with salt and pepper, and then slice into roughly 1-inch pieces. (You want the shrimp and monkfish to cook at the same rate.)
Turn the heat to low. Add the shrimp and the monkfish pieces to the sauce, arranging them so that the fish is at least halfway submerged in the sauce. Put the lid on, and allow the fish to cook for 12-14 minutes, or until the shrimp and fish are just cooked through. (Keep in mind that the fish and shrimp will continue cooking, even after you turn off the heat.) Stir the broccolini into the pot. Adjust the salt, to taste. Serve the stew in warm bowls, topped with the chopped parsley, and alongside a good crusty baguette for sopping up all the tomato sauce.
Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at theroamingkitchen.com.