Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What mojo is made of

Once in a while, a recipe comes along that makes you believe that there is nothing wrong in the world, and that, more importantly, you've still got your mojo.  And when you're knocking on the door of your Double-Nickle Birthday (isn't that a cute way of referring to being almost 55? Thank you, Thea!), you need all the mojo you can get.  Especially when hitting the Double-Nickle means carrying an extra 35 pounds.  That's Mojo with a capital M. 

Her Mojo-ness came home last Friday from the local HEB with a large portion of salmon.  And feeling rather uninspired (about which I have recently wined whined), I decided not to think about how to prepare it until much later in the evening.  And by much later, I mean after several glasses of wine, and about fifteen minutes until it was almost time for dinner.

This is how I maintain my Mojo-ness: plenty of mystique and plenty of grape juice. 

In an effort to avoid thinking about cooking dinner (and as an excuse to drink more wine), I scanned through my email inbox.  And there, like mojo from heaven, was an email from Snooth, with a passel of ideas about how to cook salmon.  Even though several looked delicious, I chose the recipe for which I had most of the ingredients. 

This is what Mojo-ness is made of: making what you've got work.

The original recipe called for oil-cured olives.  Since I go through these beauties quite frequently, I had none in the house.  I subbed canned pitted black olives and capers to approximate the salt content.  I think you could easily sub sliced kalmata olives, but know that these substitutions don't approximate the texture and unctuousness of oil-cured olives. 

I used small yellow, orange and red tomatoes instead of the plum tomatoes called for, and I think that visually, that choice made the fish a stunning centerpiece.  The tomatoes were also very sweet, which was a delightful counterpoint to the saltiness of the capers and olives. 

I would like to make this recipe again very soon, to add diced fennel to the tomato/caper/olive mixture, and to try it on halibut or another dense, oily fish.   I also baked the salmon, instead of grilling as the original recipe suggested.  I think you can omit the saffron if you have none in your pantry, but it did add a subtle depth that made this main dish sophisticated, beautiful and elegant.

We enjoyed this salmon with a lovely, slightly fruity pinot noir, McMannis Pinot Noir 2011 (CA).  This lively red is an interplay of red fruit, predominantly berries, vanilla and oak spice.  Tasty and nicely balanced, this wine is a real bargain for just under $10.

Salmon al Cartoccio   (Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking)

     Seriously.  Yum.

1 cup mixed small tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, green zebra--make it colorful), halved
1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped black oil-cured olives (20 to 25 olives), or substitute 1/2 cup sliced canned pitted black olives and 1 Tbs. drained non-pareil capers
1/2 cup finely diced fresh fennel (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. minced fresh garlic (3 to 4 medium cloves)
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Pinch saffron (15 to 20 threads)
Freshly ground black pepper
Four 6-oz. center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets (or substitute halibut)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

1.)  Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.)  In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, olives, capers, optional fennel, olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt, saffron, and pepper to taste.
3.)  Set one piece of salmon, skin-side down, on a 12x18-inch piece of heavy-duty foil; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon a quarter of the tomato mixture over the fish and seal tightly. Repeat to make four packets.
4.)  Place foil packets on a large baking sheet and place on bottom rack of oven.
5.)  Roast for approximately 20 minutes, or until fish is opaque throughout, about 8 minutes (open a packet and cut into the fish to check).
6.)  Let fish rest for a few minutes before serving and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serves four.

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