I am sitting at my dining table eating a cold blueberry pancake leftover from yesterday's celebratory breakfast. Celebratory because it marked the end of an unexpected quarantine triggered by the fact that we sat very close to someone infected with Covid-19 on one of our flights home from Italy two weeks ago and the boys, being unvaccinated, were therefore classified as close contacts. Wait. Two weeks? That makes me laugh. Italy feels like it was months ago. Something about being stuck indoors with two little boys who very much would rather be in Kita and school will make 11 days feel like 11 weeks, right?
Anyway, the best news is, of course, that we all tested negative at the end of the quarantine. Today, in the pouring rain, Hugo set off for school with his six pounds of brand-new notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils (the pleasure I got from getting his stuff ready!) and art supplies and a new supply of ink cartridges for his fountain pen. Bruno zipped happily off to Kita, snack box under his arm. We are home alone now, Max in his office, me in the aforementioned dining room and it is very quiet which is what I've longed for, but I cannot help but feel like this is just a fleeting moment of normalcy and I don't quite know what to do with this weird, unpleasant mix of relief and dread.
Parents Are Not Okay about sums it up, yes? Yes.
Anyway. I know that I very much left you hanging with my promise to share lots of delicious food from Italy and I'm sorry about that. Italy this year was...not always easy. It was uncomfortably hot a lot of the time, I was trying to squeeze in work whenever I could and there were quite a bit of parenting difficulties which cast a pall over the holidays. Cooking was an afterthought most days. Which is very easy to do in a place where everything you buy at the market tastes like the sweetest, juiciest version of itself. Upon reentry to Berlin, it felt like I had to relearn how to put food on the table all over again.
I'm not quite back to actually looking up recipes and following them, but while I get there, I wanted to tell you about this slam dunk from Melissa Clark that I made in May when I was in Boston. My parents live not far from a wonderful fish store called Captain Marden's which was such a treat for me. In Berlin, I cook almost exclusively with frozen or canned fish. Fresh fish is a wild and rare exception. With fish as fresh as it was from Captain Marden's, you can get away with barely doing anything to the fish before eating. But if you follow this recipe, you'll be so, so happy you did.
This is a sheet-pan dinner, so it's easy, but there are a few elements to it. First, you roast a tangle of sliced bell peppers until they're starting to get soft and silky. Then you scrape them out of the way and put white fish fillets in the center of the pan, topped with thyme and olives. While this roasts, you make a sort of short-cut salsa verde with parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar. The salsa verde is served with the fish and peppers. (We ate the fish and peppers with boiled potatoes if my memory serves me, but rice would be nice too.) The whole thing was very satisfying and delicious and easy to execute. And just the thing to make when you're feeling slightly incompetent, but in dire need of something special.
Sound familiar? I'm feeling extremely incompetent these days, like I'm failing at most things in my life. Motherhood, work, being a functioning human. Everything feels difficult, impossible, really, and when I lift my head from my own stupidly privileged situation, the scope of suffering elsewhere is nearly unbearable to contemplate. I know a lot of other people are feeling this way too. If you are, consider this my sympathetic fist bump.
Melissa Clark's Roasted Fish with Sweet Peppers
Serves 4 to 5
1 small bunch lemon thyme or regular thyme
1 ½ pounds hake fillets
Fine sea salt and black pepper
3 large bell peppers, preferably 1 red, 1 orange and 1 yellow, thinly sliced
4 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
¼ cup pitted, sliced black or green olives, or a combination
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
1 garlic clove, grated
1 cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pull 1 tablespoon thyme leaves off the bunch and finely chop.
2. Season fish all over with a large pinch or two of salt and pepper and rub with chopped thyme leaves. Let rest at room temperature while you prepare peppers.
3. Spread peppers on a rimmed sheet pan, and toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper to taste. Top peppers with the remaining thyme sprigs. Roast, tossing occasionally, until peppers are softened and golden at the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Push peppers to the edges of the pan, clearing a space in the center. Lay fish out on that empty space and drizzle with oil. Scatter olives over the top of fish and peppers. Roast until fish turns opaque and is just cooked through, 6 to 10 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make a vinaigrette by combining vinegar, garlic and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, then whisk in parsley. Taste and add more salt or vinegar, or both, if needed. Serve fish and peppers drizzled with vinaigrette.