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Roasted Branzino with Fennel

In this simple preparation from Liguria, Italy, the subtle flavor and texture of branzino, or sea bass, are lightlighted. Striped bass and red snapper are also good prepared this way. Marjoram is typical of Ligurian cooking, but other herbs, such as oregano or rosemary, can be substituted. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 branzino (sea bass), 1 1/2 to 2 lb., cleaned, with head and tail intact 
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh marjoram or oregano 
  • 7 Tbs. olive oil 
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice 
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 4 lemon slices 
  • 2 lb. boiling potatoes 
  • 2 small fennel bulbs 
  • 1/2 cup Gaeta or other Mediterranean-style black olives 

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 450°F.

Rinse the fish and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp, heavy knife, make slashes on both sides of the fish, cutting down to the bone. In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, marjoram, 4 Tbs. of the olive oil, and the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Rub the mixture inside the cavity and over the outside of the fish. Tuck the lemon slices inside. Cover the fish and let stand while you prepare the potatoes and fennel.

Peel and slice the potatoes, rinse under cold running water and pat dry. Place in a bowl. Cut off the stems and feathery leaves from the fennel bulbs and reserve for another use or discard. Cut away and discard any discolored areas of the bulbs. Halve each bulb lengthwise and cut away the tough core. Cut the halves crosswise into thin slices. Add the fennel slices to the potato slices along with the remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, toss well and then spread the vegetables in a roasting pan large enough to hold the slices in a shallow layer.

Bake until the potatoes and fennel begin to brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Turn the potatoes, stir in the olives and place the fish on top. Continue to bake until the flesh is opaque when cut near the bone and the potatoes and fennel are tender, 20 to 30 minutes more.

Transfer the fish to a warmed platter. Surround with the potatoes, fennel and olives. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).