– Words by Chef Julia McInnis, Zambri’s Photography by Lia Crowe
Like many of you, I have spent the majority of my life living on the West Coast. For me, much of the appeal of life here is proximity to the Pacific Ocean. For the scenery, yes. But even more so, for the way the air smells: briny, savoury and delicious.
One of the aspects of cooking Italian cuisine that speaks to me is taking quality seasonal ingredients and presenting them simply to let the ingredients shine.
This time of year (when it feels like it always has been and always will be raining) it’s the ocean’s time to shine. The colder temperatures are ideal for freshness of product and firmness of flesh.
First, some notes on choosing quality products and keeping them as fresh as possible. General advice when handling seafood is: less is more. Try to buy the fish as soon as possible before you intend to eat it, ideally the day of.
When storing clams in the fridge, keep them in the mesh or plastic bag in which you bought them. This keeps them closed and less likely to open up and breathe in too much air. Wash your clams by placing them in a bowl and covering them with cold water, then agitating the clams around in the water, rubbing them against each other to release any sand caught in the crevices.
Pro tip: Lift the clams out of the water, don’t pour the water back out over them or you risk getting that sand caught right back in their shells. Repeat this at least three times or until the water is no longer cloudy when you agitate the clams.
When choosing white fish, pick a piece that looks slightly translucent and is uniform in colour throughout, free of dark spots on the flesh. To store in the fridge, remove the fish from the packaging and place it on a clean plastic, porcelain or glass container and wrap it well with saran wrap. Avoid metal as it may react with the fish and impart a tinny flavour. Handle the fish as little as possible to keep the heat and oils of your hands from disrupting the natural pH balance of the fish.
Below is a three-course meal built from my personal favourite winter comfort foods, and highlighting the best of the ocean’s bounty: warm and fragrant broth from the liquor of clams, white wine and butter, served with crunchy bread spread with parsley pesto; sweet buttery white fish cooked with savoury olives, salty caper bombs and tomato; anchovy breadcrumbs with white beans and bitter greens, which bring a nice richness of flavour in contrast to the salt and acidity of the fish dish; and for dessert, a citrus-rich olive oil cake to cleanse the palate.
White Fish Baked with Tomato,
Olive and Caper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
½ small onion, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
½ lemon, zested
1 tbsp capers
3⁄4 cup olives, Sicilian hot mix or Picholine
1 pinch chili flakes
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup white wine
2 cups (500 ml) Zambri’s tomato sauce
1½ lbs white fish, rockfish or sole ideally
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Place garlic, chopped onion and vegetable oil in a medium-sized sauce pan. Turn heat to medium. Cook garlic and onion until soft and beginning to colour. Add a small amount of water halfway through to speed along the process. Add capers and olives and continue to cook for 1 minute. Add cherry tomatoes and continue to cook until cherry tomatoes are soft and beginning to burst. Add white wine and Zambri’s tomato sauce. Simmer 5 minutes to let the flavours get to know each other.
Prepare fish by giving a gentle rinse and patting dry on paper towels. Cut fish into 4 pieces of approximately the same size. Place fish in a shallow oven-safe casserole dish. Season fish with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over fish and place in oven. Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until fish is opaque throughout and just beginning to flake.
Serve immediately and garnish with chopped parsley and a drizzle of good olive oil.
Clams and White Wine with Garlic-Rubbed Crostino and Parsley Pesto
½ bunch parsley
½ tsp capers
1 tbsp grated hard-rind cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
½ loaf crusty, day-old bread (like a baguette)
3 lbs clams
4 garlic cloves
1 cup white wine (anything cheap and cheerful)
1 tbsp butter
1 pinch chili flakes
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Cut bread in slices no bigger than one-inch thick. Place on parchment-lined baking tray. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Bake at 350 F for 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted and dried most of the way through. Rub with one garlic clove on both sides of each crostino to “butter” the bread with the raw garlic.
Stem parsley and chop fine. Squeeze capers and chop fine. Combine chopped parsley, capers, cheese, lemon zest and olive oil in a bowl. Adjust seasoning as needed. Smear pesto on each crostino.
Wash clams as described above. Slice 3 cloves of garlic lengthwise as thin as possible. Place 1 tbsp of the olive oil, half of the butter and all of the sliced garlic in a cold, shallow sauce pot. Turn heat to medium low and heat the oil, butter and garlic until the butter just begins to foam. Add clams and stir around until the clams start to sizzle and begin opening. Add white wine and cover pan to trap in all the liquor from the clams.
After 2 minutes, remove the lid and move the clams around with a spoon. The clams will not all open if they are stacked on each other, so moving them around gives them the space to open up and fully cook. Clams are ready when they are all fully open.
Taste the broth and adjust seasoning as you see fit. Serve immediately in warm bowls with crostino.
White Beans and Bitter Greens with Anchovy Breadcrumbs
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp anchovies, chopped
3 leaves sage, chopped
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
1⁄4 cup water
1 bunch bitter greens (such as dandelion greens,
apini or black kale)
1 can white beans, drained
Place butter and anchovies in a small, straight-edged sauté pan, ideally cast iron if available. Press the anchovies with a fork to break them up into smaller pieces. Cook together until anchovies have mostly dissolved and the butter begins to brown. Add sage and breadcrumbs. Cook together, stirring constantly for 2 minutes until breadcrumbs have absorbed all the butter and are light brown in colour. Remove from heat and place on a plate to cool. Set aside.
Prepare greens by washing if needed and gently patting dry. Cut into pieces approximately 1 inch in length.
Place a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat, and add greens, olive oil and water. Cover pan and let greens steam down until soft and water is mostly evaporated. If using rapini or kale, you should be able to squish the stems with your fingers. Add white beans and cook together until beans have softened slightly. Use a fork to mash the beans lightly until they are creamy in texture. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve in a shallow bowl and top with anchovy breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve hot.
Citrus Olive Oil Cake
3⁄4 cup white sugar
1⁄3 cup olive oil
½ cup milk
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ lemon, zested
½ orange, zested
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Oil an 8-inch round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Using either a stand mixer or a handheld electric beater, beat eggs and sugar together until eggs are light and fluffy—approximately 1 to 1.5 minutes. While mixing, add oil slowly in a steady stream until fully combined with milk, citrus zest, juice and vanilla extract. Sift or mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add flour, baking powder and salt mixture to wet mixture, beating softly until fully combined. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula if needed. Pour batter into prepared dish.
Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Let sit in pan at least 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely before serving.