Grilled Branzino alla Ligure

Ingredients

  • 2 5 1/2 ounce branzino fillets, boneless and skin-on*
  • 6 ounces tomatoes on the vine, 2-3 per person
  • 8 ounces new potatoes, skin on
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 12 pitted kalamata olives
  • 20 small fresh marjoram (or oregano) leaves
  • 20-30 celery leaves, only the lightest colored leaves from the heart of a celery stalk
  • 10 Ligurian celery leaves (lovage)
  • 15-20 curly parsley leaves
  • sea salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

Directions

For the tomatoes

  1. Leave the tomatoes on the vine, snipping them into clusters of two to three. Season with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  2. Place them in an oven proof pan along with the crushed clove of garlic and any herb stems you've collected while making the salad (especially the stems from the marjoram and lovage).
  3. Roast in a 325 degree oven (or 275 degree convection oven on low fan) for about 30 minutes until the skins begin to wrinkle and the tomatoes are completely infused with the flavors of the herbs and garlic.

For the potatoes

  1. Starting with cold, salted water, bring the potatoes to a low simmer.
  2. Cook until they are extremely tender. Leave them in the water until you are ready to serve.

For the branzino

  1. A stove-top grill pan will work here, as will an outdoor grill. Make sure the rails of your grill are clean, hot and lightly oiled. Season the fillets on the skin side with salt, pepper, fresh chopped thyme and a very thin sheen of olive oil.
  2. Grill, skin side down, for approximately 4-5 minutes, doing a quarter turn of the fish half way through. Branzino fillets are thin and will cook quickly and almost completely through while the skin side is still down. You want the skin to be crispy and lightly charred, but not black.
  3. As the edges and top of the fillet turn from opaque to white, season the bottom side of the fillet with salt, pepper and a splash of lemon. Once you are ready to serve the fish, turn the fillets over and cook the flesh side for an additional minute. Serve immediately.

For the salad

  1. When the fish is almost done cooking, mix together the pine nuts, olives, marjoram, celery leaves, parsley and lovage. Dress with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

To assemble

  1. Remove the potatoes from the water and mash them with a fork. Season generously with olive oil and sea salt.
  2. Place the still-warm tomatoes and potatoes on a large oval plate and set the branzino fillets in between. Scatter the salad over the top of everything. Drizzle some of the olive oil from the tomatoes on top of the plate and serve.

*A whole fish weighing 1 1/2 pounds will yield two fillets of this size

Lovage is sometimes hard to come by but worth seeking out. It has the sweet and pungent smell of celery with hints of tarragon and anise. A few leaves go a long way.

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