When we decided to make our dreams come true and buy property in Italy almost 6 years ago, we knew we wanted to live in Umbria. We’ve been extremely happy with our adopted region, and Umbria has just about everything we were looking for…that is, everything apart from a coastline. It’s one of just a few Italian regions that are landlocked, and since we love seafood so much, we either have to make do with the fresh water fish caught in the region’s lakes, or choose travel destinations that border the sea. We recently visited Venice, where we took advantage of the abundant marine life at lunch and dinner each day of our stay. We also brought along a cooler, which we filled with seafood at the amazing Rialto market before heading back home.
One of the purchases I toted back to Umbria were San Pietro fillets. Also known as John Dory, the fish has a very white flesh with a delicate but dense texture. It’s actually quite ugly in appearance, with an odd marking on its side that resembles a thumbprint. Legend says that the mark was made by St. Peter—hence the name.
You can choose any white fish fillets for this dish, including turbot, sole, tilapia, bass, grouper, and snapper. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh artichokes, I’d encourage you to use them. Unfortunately, the Italian artichoke season is over, so I used frozen ones in this recipe. They’re fairly close in flavor to fresh ones, and definitely a better choice than the canned or marinated varieties. When sautéed until lightly browned, chances are you’ll hardly notice the difference.
When choosing fresh fish, whether you’re buying a whole fish or fish fillets, it is always best to buy local. Look for vibrant, moist fish, and avoid any that are dry or off color. Fresh fish should have no aroma, and the flesh should be resilient when pressed with your fingertips.
Pan frying is a great way to cook any non-fatty fish filets. The seasoned flour coating protects the flesh from direct heat and helps keep the fish moist, while also providing an appetizing golden brown exterior. This method of preparation also allows you to use less oil, keeping your dish healthy. Best of all, fish filets cook up very quickly, so you can get dinner on the table in no time at all.
When choosing olives, I prefer full flavored ones like Gaeta, Kalamata, Bella di Cerignola, or Taggiasca. I only buy oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, which are not only sweeter and more flavorful than the basic dried ones, but don’t need to be rehydrated prior to use.
Deborah Mele 2013
Pan Fried Whitefish with Artichokes, Olives, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- 1/3 Cup All-purpose Flour
- Kosher Salt And Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 4 Whitefish Fillets, About 6 To 8 Ounces Each
- 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
- 6 Whole Frozen Artichokes, Thawed, And Thinly Sliced
- 2 Teaspoons Salted Capers, Rinsed Well
- 1/4 Cup Flavorful Green Or Black Olives (See Notes Above)
- 2 Medium Garlic Cloves, Thinly Sliced
- 4 Oil Packed Sun-dried Tomatoes, Drained And Chopped (See Notes Above)
- 1 Cup Dry White Wine
- Juice Rrom Half A Lemon, About 2 Tablespoons
- 1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
- 4 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Parsley Leaves
- Season the flour with salt and pepper and place in a shallow bowl.
- Dredge the fish fillets in the flour until well coated.
- Heat half the olive in a heavy skillet until lightly smoking, then fry the artichokes until they begin to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes.
- Add the capers, olives, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes and stir to mix.
- Place the artichoke mixture in a bowl and set aside until needed.
- Heat the remaining oil in the skillet until lightly smoking over medium heat, then add the fillets to the pan.
- Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.
- Place the fillets on a heated plate, cover and keep warm.
- Return the artichoke mixture to the skillet along with the wine.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook until the wine has reduced by half.
- Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the lemon, butter and parsley.
- Serve the fillets on a platter topped with the artichoke mixture.