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August 2006

Las Nenas's Vegetable Rice


I have to be honest - my heart wasn't really in my last post. Could you tell? I felt like choosing that recipe was a bit like grasping at straws - I didn't really want to be making it, and once I made it I didn't really want to eat it. Luckily, I was able to fob the rest of the cake off on my office mates (who polished it off in no time) and decide that life is too short to make recipes I don't want to make. Least of all eat, or write about. So that's that.

In other news, however, I had a great time making this rice last night. It was going to be a quiet night alone at home, and I figured it was one of those evenings where I could get away with making a pot of vegetable-filled rice for dinner and nothing else. Not that that meant the recipe was easy or quick. In fact, this is one of more complicated preparations I've ever done for a rice dish. But? It was totally worth it.

The recipe comes from two American women (chef transplants from California) who live in Catalonia (yet another part of the world I am just itching to see - preferably on a Vespa as I noodle around the winding roads and villages in between staggeringly beautiful countryside and delicious, rustic meals - nice vision I've got for myself, no?) and run an inn called Las Nenas. A writer for the LA Times, Betty Hallock, stumbled upon the place before a pilgrimage to that other Catalan temple of food, El Bulli.

Betty and her traveling companion cooked a meal with the owners of Las Nenas and then shared the recipes with the LA Times. While the grilled rabbit, lamb and chorizo with romesco seemed far too complicated to recreate at home alone, the vegetable rice was another story. It featured the Catalan version of soffritto, long-cooked onions and garlic, plus three tomatoes grated maddeningly on the side of a box grater.

That tomato-grating business was the worst part of the whole endeavor. Why, I grumbled to myself, as seeds spurted every which way and the tomato meat Would. Not. Detach. Itself from the skin, can't I just use a can of peeled tomatoes, crushed? But then it was over, and the house smelled divine, like onions and tomatoes and saffron and coziness, and I had already moved on to the next part of the recipe.

I substituted canned lima beans (you might think I'm nuts, but this is a new discovery of mine, and I think I'm in love) for the fava beans, because - gasp - I think fava beans might be overrated and in any case I can barely afford them and after grating all those tomatoes, the last thing I wanted to do was to parboil and peel and boil again a bunch of darned beans. And I used frozen baby peas instead of the English peas called for, but we all know that that is fine and no crime against gourmandiserie in any case.

After I stewed the onions and garlic for a while and then added in all that tomato slop and two healthy pinches of saffron and the rice (I used Carnaroli instead of Bomba) and wine and stock and all those beans and peas and asparagus lengths and salt (salt!), the casserole was stuck in the oven where over the next 20 minutes, it turned into a gorgeous, golden, fragrant pot of the most wonderfully flavored rice and vegetables. I cut up strips of piquillo peppers to decorate the top , as instructed, but I'd advise against that if I were you. It's fussy and unnecessary and the rice tastes more delicious without those little red interlopers.

But do not forget about the lemon wedges. The freshly squeezed citrus brightens everything up and makes this risotto-like dish sparkle. I had two helpings for dinner and then more for lunch today (because, by the way, this recipe is really not meant for the single girl - thanks be that I have friends coming over to help polish this off), and am so relieved to have found a recipe that I am thrilled to have made and can't wait to make again.

Vegetable Rice
Serves 6

2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil (I used far less - about 4 tablespoons)
3 tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 large pinches of saffron
2 cups short grain rice, ideally Bomba
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup favas (about 1 pound), out of pods and peeled
1/2 cup fresh English peas (about 8 ounces), shelled
1 cup asparagus (about 10 spears), cut into about 2-inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 piquillo peppers for garnish, thinly sliced
Lemon wedges

1. In a large, heavy, ovenproof casserole, make a sofregit by cooking the onions and garlic in the olive oil very slowly over low heat until tender and golden but not browned, about 40 minutes to an hour.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half and grate them by pressing the fleshy side against the medium holes of a box grater. Discard the skins. After the onions are tender, add the grated tomato and saffron and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

3. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains in the sofregit. Add the white wine, stock, favas, peas, asparagus and salt.

4. Bring the rice mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the stove top and bake, uncovered, until stock is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 20 minutes.

5. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Decorate with the piquillo pepper slices and serve with lemon wedges.

Jonathan Reynolds's New England Spider Cake


Though I consider myself more of a spartan breakfaster (no more than a bowl of unsweetened cereal with berries and skim milk, or jam-spread toast with yogurt on most days), when Jonathan Reynolds wrote about spider cake in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago, I found myself intrigued by the thought of a pan of Northern cornbread with a cup of cream poured into the middle so that little rivulets ran through the bread like spider legs, enriching and flavoring it.

Nutritionally-speaking, having a slice of this creation is probably not even that much different than smearing a tablespoon or two of butter on toast in the morning. But the recipe confuses me a bit. You make a plain old cornbread batter (well, with sugar, so for the Southerners out there reacting in outrage to me calling this plain and old, I'm sorry), pour it into a butter-coated skillet and then pour a cup of cream into the middle.

Since I used a 10-inch skillet and not a 12-inch as directed, the baking time took longer (about an hour instead of 45 minutes). The cornbread rose a little and turned a gorgeous golden-brown. The apartment filled with a corny, buttery-sweet smell. I pulled the skillet out of the oven (carefully) and let it cool for a bit before slicing in. The center was firm but tender, and the crusty edges had caramelized - and let me tell you, caramel-flavored cornbread is a very nice way to start your day.

But on the bottom of the pan, around the edges, there a milky-looking residue that looked like raw batter. I stuck my finger into the white sludge and tasted it - it wasn't raw batter, but rather hot cream. Instead of running little rivers through the cornbread after I poured it in the middle, the cream had somehow worked its way to the bottom of the pan and then slid down to the edges. When I cut out a slice, it collapsed a bit at the end.

The flavor of the breakfast cake was quite nice, but I have to be honest, a regular corn muffin would be just as good (and I kind of like the dry muffin - it lends itself better to milky tea-dunking). I didn't need to waste a cup of cream to moisten this already perfectly acceptable corn bread, and all that cream is certainly not worth the calories. How spartanly New England of me.

New England Spider Cake
Makes 8 servings

2 cups milk
4 teaspoons white vinegar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine milk and vinegar in a bowl and set
aside to sour. In another bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and
salt. Whisk eggs into the soured milk. Stir into dry ingredients and set
batter aside.

2. Melt butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter. Pour cream
into the center, slide skillet into the oven and bake until golden brown on
top, about 45 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

Russ Parsons' Golden Tomato Soup with Fennel


As the entire United States suffered a blanket of heat earlier this week it would have been considered cruel and unusual punishment to turn the stove on (well, besides to boil water for the iced tea supply). This didn't keep me away from the kitchen for too long - in fact, I used the heat to my advantage and indulged my inner hippie by making my very first batch of homemade yogurt.

Using the cookbook that by now has become ubiquitous in blogdom (sent to me courtesy of the kind folks at Clarkson Potter), I boiled a quart of 2% milk, cooled it to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, stirred in a few spoonfuls of the best plain yogurt in America, wrapped the bowl up in towels and placed this cumbersome package in my unlit gas stove for 20 hours. After 10 hours, I peered into the bowl, seeing nothing but a puddle of sour milk and I cursed Mitchell under my breath. But when I got up the next morning and peeled off the layers of towels, there it was! A pristine mass of white, white yogurt, delicate and delicious and warm.

I packed the yogurt into the fridge, where it firmed up and cooled off a bit. I've been spooning it up every day since then. It's quite delicious and there's something so satisfying about the ritual of making yogurt. Not to mention saving $1.19 for each little pot of Liberte (and think of all the plastic I'm not using and throwing out!). But, it has to be said, the homemade version is not as whipped and voluptuous as the store-bought stuff. And I'm a creature of habit, so I'm not sure how often I'll be making this myself, but it was fun to have tried. I also made a batch of sour cherry preserves using Kitchen Sense's recipe, but those turned out to be too sweet and runny - nothing to write home about.

If it had been just me at home this week, I would have happily eaten yogurt every night for dinner. But I had a house guest, and a hungry teenager at that. Determined to find something nourishing and delicious that wouldn't require a gas flame, I settled on Russ Parsons' chilled tomato soup that he printed to accompany an article on heirloom tomatoes two years in the LA Times. I love the idea of golden tomatoes but, until this soup, I always found them to be a bit insipid when sliced and eaten with olive oil and salt. In this soup, however, their sweet, delicate flavor really explodes.

Almost like a gazpacho, the recipe has you blend golden tomatoes and soaked bread and chopped fennel and garlic and onions with lemon juice and pimenton and olive oil and ice water until you have a thick, yellow liquid. You chill this and then serve the soup (strained, if you're fancy, but I'm not, so I didn't) topped with lemon-dressed diced fennel and minced fennel fronds. The soup and the crunchy topping are bright and cool and sweetly refreshing (and very elegant to look at), but have an earthy, spicy, faintly smoky kick that lingers in the mouth long after the last spoonful has been eaten.

Delicious, as usual, Mr. Parsons.

Golden Tomato Soup with Fennel
4 to 6 servings

2 cups ( 3/4-inch) cubes bread, crusts removed
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 pounds golden tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fennel (about 1/2 bulb)
Lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Dash pimenton de la vera, or paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (I left this out)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 cup ice water
1/2 cup finely diced fennel (about 1/2 bulb), for garnish
3 teaspoons minced fennel fronds, for garnish

1. Place the bread in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Let stand at least 30 minutes to soften. Squeeze the bread dry and put it in the blender with the garlic, onion, tomatoes and the chopped fennel. Purée until smooth. Add the juice of half a lemon, the vinegar, pimenton, cumin and 1 teaspoon of salt and purée again. With the motor running, in batches if necessary, gradually add the one-fourth cup oil and the ice water. Chill well.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the finely diced fennel and the minced fronds. Moisten with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil and season with a couple drops of lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt.

3. Before serving, stir the purée through a fine mesh strainer if you want a perfectly smooth soup. Otherwise, whisk it to gently reincorporate anything that might have separated. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Divide evenly among 4 to 6 chilled soup bowls and garnish with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the diced fennel mixture before serving.

Regina Schrambling's Crab Cakes


A lot of people, like my stepmother, are so obsessed with crab cakes they'll order them whenever they appear on a menu. I've had a few restaurant crab cakes in my time, but they've never been much to write home about. Too aggressively spiced, too pasty, too fried. And since mayonnaise, such an integral part of the crab cake construction, is the kind of substance I'd be happy to never have to ingest again in my life, I've never really been too tempted to make these at home.

But then Regina Schrambling had to go and write a mouth-watering article about the glories of crab cakes done right, and since she had such kitchen luminaries as Tom Douglas and David Lentz expounding on their mama's crab cakes (and providing, I assume, some amalgam of those ladies' kitchen wisdom in the accompanying recipe), I couldn't help but run out and practically mortgage my apartment to buy lump crab meat and get to work.

Since I simply could not bring myself to actually buy a whole jar of mayonnaise, I substituted some low-fat mayo left behind by my San Francisco-bound roommate, but otherwise, I stuck to the recipe. Jumbo lump crab meat, Old Bay, panko bread crumbs, chopped parsley, sliced green onions, salt, pepper and an egg. The cakes seemed like they'd barely hold together as there was so much crab in comparison to the binding and filler. I chilled the cakes while I whizzed together a piquillo pepper sauce for dipping (more mayo - egads, some jarred piquillos, sherry vinegar, parsley, and a bit of pimenton de la Vera to add a faintly bitter, smoky note.)

After an hour of chilling, I melted butter with oil in a pan and gently fried the cakes until they were browned and crispy on both sides. Served hot with the cold, creamy, smoky sauce, they were quite a delicious meal eaten outside in the evening breeze. The sweet, plump crab really shone through, but the crunch and vegetal brightness of the onions and herbs and spices turned these into well-balanced flavor bombs (in a good way!).

I love this plain, simple recipe - it's a classic. And If I make these again, when I've won the lottery and can afford to do so, I'll definitely be trying sauce gribiche alongside them, which seems like a more sophisticated take on tartar sauce and a bit more up my alley, sauce-wise.

Crab Cakes
8 servings

1 pound jumbo lump or Dungeness crabmeat
4 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or cilantro)
1/2 cup panko or fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or to taste)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Pick over the crabmeat to remove any cartilage, trying not to break up the chunks. In a bowl, gently toss the crabmeat, green onions, cilantro, panko and Old Bay. Again, try not to break up the crab.

2. Gently fold in the mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the lightly beaten egg and fold just until the mixture is well combined.

3. Shape the mixture into eight fat ball-like cakes. (They will flatten slightly during cooking.) Place them on a platter or a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Drape a second sheet of wax paper over the top. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Carefully lay the crab cakes into the butter and oil and fry until crusty and browned, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Serve hot, with a chilled sauce.

Karen DeMasco's Nectarine Upside-Down Cake


When the cupcake craze swept Western civilization a few years ago, I felt a bit left out. To me, the cupcakes being peddled by faux-fifties decorated bakeries uptown, downtown and midtown alternated between too sweet, too dry, too pasty, too waxy and too fussy to justify the absolute mania they spawned. I understood the homemade glazed sweet potato doughnuts and the bombastic banana puddings, even the icebox cakes made sense. But the cupcake? It was the last thing I'd waste my sweet tooth on.

And then. I placed my once-a-week lunch order with 'Wichcraft (the white anchovy-poached egg-frisee-salsa verde-no onions please, if you're wondering), and when the delivery service brought me the wrong sandwich, Wichcraft apologized by sending me one of their chocolate cupcakes, nestled carefully in a plastic container with a lid, lest even a speck of the shiny icing smudge and deviate entirely - gasp - from its designated destination: my lips.

It was the best cupcake I ever ate. Perhaps even the best cake I ever ate. The crumb was perfection - lighter than air, perplexingly so; chockful of the deepest, darkest cocoa flavor; moist without being oily or greasy (it even had a squirt of vanilla-flavored whipped cream in the middle). And the icing: a shiny slick of dark chocolate ganache that I could have eaten with a spoon. It put spatula-swirled, pastel-hued buttercream frosting to shame. This was the kind of cupcake to stand in lines for, to pay $2.75 for, to elicit adoration from dessert nuts everywhere.

After I ate that cupcake, I went online and tried in desperation to find the recipe. Karen DeMasco, the pastry chef at Craft (and craftbar and Wichcraft) probably guards that recipe with her life, and I can understand why, though I'm hopeful that it is divulged in the baking book she's apparently working on. What I found in return for my Googling efforts, though, was an upside-down cake recipe of hers that I couldn't help but clip.

That clipping languished in my binder for a few years before an office birthday propelled me into the kitchen this morning (because on days like this, the only time you can bake is in the morning. The fact that most people choose not to bake at all in the middle of summer is not entirely lost on me). Preparing the caramel was a bit fussy, but the creamy, buttermilk-enriched batter came together quite nicely. I bought irritating nectarines that refused to be sliced in half and twisted off of the pit, so I had to slice and dice my way to nectarine "halves", but once they were arranged on the (now-hardened caramel), my rage subsided.

Close to an hour spent in the oven rendered the cake golden-brown and springy, and after a few minutes on the cooling rack, I inverted the cake with the parchment paper keeping all the fruit bits intact. The caramel had rendered the bottom (top) of the cake a burnished bronze and the hot, sugared fruit smelled fantastic. There were, however, a few spots of caramel that simply had not melted and they sit there still, staring at me somewhat reprovingly (plucked gently off the top of the cake and eaten, they taste remarkably like a soft Werther's).

Disregarding my caramel skills, the cake was a total success. Cooking stone fruits, no matter how hard or unappetizing they might be when raw, renders them into lush, perfumed versions of themselves. The nubby caramel topping sank down into the white cake beneath (a bit too sweet for my tastes, but eaten eagerly by my colleagues) and made each mouthful soft and yielding and unctuous. Summertime dessert perfection.

Nectarine Upside-Down Cake
Serves 6 to 8

6 tablespoons butter plus additional for the pan
1 cup sugar
4 to 6 fresh nectarines, halved and pitted (peaches, apricots, or plums can be substituted)

1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Butter a 10-inch cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

2. Place 2 tablespoons water and sugar in a saucepan, and stir together. Cook over high heat, swirling the pan (do not stir), until the mixture turns a golden caramel color. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the butter (be careful; the mixture will foam).

3. Pour the caramel into the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with the nectarine halves, cut-side-down.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the sugar and melted butter to the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, and beat until combined. Add eggs, and whisk until the mixture is light and fluffy. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the buttermilk and vanilla extract together. With mixer set on low speed, add the dry ingredients by thirds, alternating with the liquid ingredients, to the butter mixture.

5. When it's all fully blended, pour the batter into the pan over the nectarines and bake, rotating it front-to-back after the first 15 minutes, for about 50 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, and allow to sit for about 10 minutes before inverting onto a platter and peeling off parchment paper.

Ino's Tuna with Black-Olive-Pesto Panini


While it totally irks me that what is in essence a tapenade in this preparation is being called a pesto when there is nary a leaf of basil or a clove of garlic to even begin to lend itself to the attempted yet inappropriate use of the word, the utter genius of these little sandwiches all but makes up for that transgression.

Delectably salty, crispy-crunchy, hot and oily in all the right ways, these panini are going to be recurring guests in my kitchen. One was the perfect dinner (a small salad of soft greens and halved grape tomatoes would have dotted the i most pleasingly) for me last night, but you could also halve or quarter each panino and serve them as a snack with your aperitivo.

The recipe comes from 'Ino, the adorable little sliver of a wine bar and restaurant in the West Village, where I've happily eaten many a sandwich and enjoyed the hustle and bustle around me. Two of 'Ino's recipes were printed in the New York Times Magazine a few years back, when the panino craze was sweeping restaurants and kitchens nationwide.

Unwilling to add another appliance to my collection, I bought a small grill press at my trusty Chinese restaurant supply shop yesterday, and turned my cast-iron skillet into a panino press. I used a spoon to smooth the olive mixture onto each bread slice, and my hands to carefully mound the tuna-caper berry mixture onto each panino.

A few minutes under the grill press (with a little added pressure from me that made the oil sizzle appetizingly on the hot iron), and we were ready to eat our crusty meal. The olive-tuna combination is as old as the Nicois hills, but it's always delicious. Especially when spiked with lemon zest and hot pepper flakes (not enough! be sure to add more), those artful slices of caper berries and a splash or two of Champagne vinegar.

The bread squashed itself into a perfect brick - the crust as crackly as can be, the interior barely, faintly moist. I can't wait to have another for dinner tonight.

Tuna with Black-Olive-Pesto Panini

Yields 4 panini

For the pesto:
1 cup Gaeta olives, pitted
10 caper berries, stems removed
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 cup olive oil (I couldn't stand using this much)

For the panini:
1 6-to 8-ounce can Italian tuna
6 caper berries, stems discarded, sliced into thin disks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch red pepper flakes
4 ciabatta rolls

1. Combine the pesto ingredients in a food processor; blend until just a bit chunky.

2. Combine the tuna, caper berries, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and pepper flakes in a bowl and toss. Split the ciabatta rolls in half and use 2 tablespoons of the pesto to spread on both halves of each roll. Place 1/3 cup of the tuna mixture inside.

3. Grill in a preheated sandwich press, or a George Foreman grill until nicely browned, 3 to 6 minutes. Serve warm. 

Marian Burros's Halibut with Balsamic-Glazed Spring Onions


I imagine that there is nothing more stressful than the first time you cook for your beloved's mother. After all, you are proving yourself in that most elemental of areas - the nourishment of the very child that she fed for so long. That phrasing veers a little too close for comfort to the idea that Ben is a child that I take care of. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact, sometimes I think I require a little too much caretaking by him. But still, isn't it one of those long-held cliches that cooking for your boyfriend's mother is an exercise in desperation and fear?

Luckily for me, however, Ben's mother is a lovely woman and a supporter of my kitchen activities, as proved by her donation of this incredible machine that I stop to pet at least once a day. Despite the fact that we live in the same neighborhood most days of the week, I'd never gotten my act together to actually have her over for dinner. But earlier this week, we finally got our schedules aligned and I found myself zipping through my recipe archives for a casual-but-no-spag-bol-please-thank-you-very-much dinner. I settled on a fish recipe that Marian Burros published in the New York Times earlier this summer as an accompaniment to the Times's dissection of which fish were good for eating these days and which should be blacklisted until the end of industrial pollution as we know it.

The recipe called for halibut, balsamic vinegar and spring onions. For the second time in a week, I found myself at Whole Foods, wondering exactly why I had thought it would be a better idea to shop there than anywhere else. The selection of balsamic vinegars was terrible - the prices were either shockingly high or alarmingly low. And when I asked about spring onions, the vegetable stocker looked at me like I might not be right in the head. I assumed the "spring" part of the equation meant that I could make that recipe in May and in May only, but I was proven wrong at the Greenmarket the next day when I saw large bunches of spring onions for sale at almost every stand. At Whole Foods I made do by buying three bunches of scallions to substitute for the onions.

The recipe was easy-peasy. I sauteed the quartered scallions and thyme sprigs in oil until tender and caramelized, then bathed them in a swift bath of vinegar before removing them from the heat. I wiped out the remaining film of vinegar in the pan, then poured in more oil and quickly cooked the fish on both sides before adding a bit more vinegar to the pan. I felt that six whole tablespoons of balsamic might overpower the delicate fish, so I disregarded Burros's step of adding yet more vinegar once the fish was plated. The restraint was a good idea. The balsamic obviously went well with the onions (it's a classic Italian preparation) and the sweet, acidic sauce was nice with the fish, but any more vinegar would have been overkill.

I wished there had been more onions to top the fish with, so I'd say don't take my lead on the scallions. Try for spring onions, and if you don't find those, then use sweet, white onions instead. Cipollini, even! We ate our fish with basmati rice that had been rinsed quite well and cooked in chicken broth, and tender, young zucchini steamed and dressed with a halved garlic clove, olive oil and flaky salt. The best part of the delicious meal? I think Lynn still likes me.

Pan-Fried Halibut with Balsamic-Glazed Spring Onions
Serves 4

4 halibut fillets (about 7 ounces each), rinsed and patted dry
Freshly ground black pepper
3 bunches spring onions
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme, plus leaves for garnish
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I only used 4)
Fresh chopped chives for garnish

1. Season fish with black pepper. Trim onions, leaving root end intact; remove outer layer. Cut onions into quarters.

2. In a very large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add onions and thyme and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until almost tender, about 3 minutes.

3. Uncover pan and continue to cook until onions caramelize, about 3 minutes more. Add 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar to pan, let cook for 10 seconds, then immediately transfer onions to a bowl.

4. Heat remaining oil in pan until very hot. Lower heat to medium-low, add fish skin-side down, and cook until just opaque, about 4 minutes a side. Add remaining balsamic vinegar and remove from heat.

5. Transfer fish to four serving plates and top each fillet with some onion mixture. Garnish with thyme leaves and chives.