Andrew and I are in the process of moving back to Santa Cruz. We are so happy to be leaving Santa Clara and to live in Santa Cruz again. As people who do not enjoy city life, suburban landscapes or 100 degree weather, Santa Cruz is a much better fit for our temperaments. We both love hiking in the redwoods, walking along the beach, and of course, banana slugs. Not to mention, New Leaf Market is one of the few places in the area that still sells raw milk, unless you want to buy it straight from the source or from the farmer’s market. Plus in Santa Cruz I can go foraging for berries and I’m closer to work.
Since we are in the process of moving, I needed to procure boxes this morning. Alas, when I arrived at Staples they were not open yet and I had half an hour to kill. I decided to hop on over to Whole Foods Market on Stevens Creek in Cupertino. I knew when I got there that I wanted pasta, tomato sauce, and fish. I wanted to cook a whole fish. Their selection of whole fish is meager at Whole Foods. They had branzino, sardines, and a large fish that I can’t recall the name of. I did not want to cook sardines. Nothing against sardines, but I wasn’t feeling it. Instead I bought one whole branzino which weighed in around a pound. I had no idea what a branzino was or how it was typically cooked or what you served it with. It sounded like a character from a 1970s John Travolta movie. Hard to pass up.
Branzino Head. Branzino is also called European Sea Bass.
When I got home, I did not cook the fish straight away. Instead I packed a couple boxes and then got to work on my tomato sauce. I heated up a giant soup pot on the electric burner of death and inaccuracy on what my stove top considers high. High on my stove top means awful burning smell, fan blasting on high, all the windows open, and the pot getting to about what would be on any other stove medium-high. While I was preparing to burn down my house, I cut a dozen tomatoes in half. Note: always use a serrated knife when cutting ripe tomatoes. Much easier than a chef’s knife. Once my pot was hot I added a couple turns of olive oil. I don’t know how much olive oil it was. Add as much or as little as you like. It will smoke. Your pot is hot. That’s the point. Then add your tomatoes. It will splatter. You may get burned. I always get burned. It happens. Do not disturb your tomatoes. They want to be left alone as they die. While your tomatoes are charring on the bottom of your pot, roughly chop an onion, preferably white or yellow. Then peel as much garlic as you like. I like garlic a lot so I used a whole head. The recipe that I was following called for one clove. That is a recipe for pansies.
Tomatoes, onions, and garlic cooking.
Add your onions and garlic without disturbing your tomatoes. Let it sit for about five minutes. Then add a good amount of red wine. I used a cabernet sauvignon. I don’t drink wine generally and most use it for cooking. You can use any red wine. You could use white wine. Please do not use plum wine or any other sort of fruit wine. Now is when you get to stir. Stir it a few times to distribute the onions and garlic in with the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper. You can also add oregano, thyme, etc at this point. I realized I had none of these herbs in my cupboard/fridge so I did not use them. Add as much as you like. This is your sauce not Prego’s.
Whole wheat pasta dough.
I let my sauce cook for another ten to fifteen minutes while I made my pasta. Pasta is simple to make. Cookbooks make a big deal out of the well. Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to make a volcano. Sure it’s fun to make a volcano but it’s really not going to change a fucking thing and I think the only reason that people insist on the well is that they want to intimidate you. These people are members of the cooking masons and don’t want you to learn the secret handshake of hollandaise. I put in a generous amount of whole wheat flour. Purists will insist on semolina. You can use whole wheat, you can use all purpose, don’t use bread flour because it has too much gluten. Otherwise, have fun and experiment. This is your food. I then separated two extra large eggs, tossed the egg white aside and used two yolks for my dough. I did make a well and put my eggs in that well. Then I added a quarter cup of cold water at a time until I had mixed a firm dough. You do not want it to be sticky. You want it to be firm. Now set aside in a bowl and cover with plastic.
The sauce after it has cooked but before it went into the food processor.
While I let my pasta dough rest (this is so the gluten in the dough relaxes), I began processing my tomato sauce. I hate chunky foods, especially chunky foods that are in sauces with crunchy onions. Yeah I have sensory issues, deal with it. I put my tomato sauce through a food processor in small batches. Make sure that your sauce is no longer boiling when you do this. Make sure you are not pouring boiling hot tomato sauce from a large pot into a small food processor. I use a ladle for this. I also cover the hole in my food processor with a towel so I don’t burn myself. You don’t have to do this step. You can leave your sauce as chunky or smooth as you like. A food mill will remove the tomato skins and seeds leaving you with a chunkier sauce than a food processor.
Sauce after it went through the food processor.
It makes a lot of sauce.
After you are done making your sauce, you can start rolling out and cutting your pasta dough. Find a flat wood surface and dust it with flour. Make sure there is enough flour so your dough does not stick. Then get a rolling pin and flour that. Now roll out your dough to desired thickness. You want it to be around 1/16 to an 1/8 inch. It will expand and get thicker when you boil it. Once it is rolled out get a knife and start cutting strips or whatever shape you want. Or you could do all this in a fancy pasta maker. I don’t have a fancy pasta maker and a knife does just fine if you don’t care about uniformity or aesthetics. Once you have cut up your strips lay them gently down on a floured surface and cover with a dish towel so they do not dry out. You can always boil them at this point, but I had other things to do.
Roll out your dough to a thickness of 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch.
Fresh whole wheat noodles before they’re cooked.
Such as going to REI. At REI you will stand in front of the sleeping bags for twenty minutes waiting for a sales associate to help you which they will not because you are a single female surrounded by males and families. Then you will get annoyed and go up to a sales associate and demand they find your sleeping bag. Then bring your sleeping bag home and bask in its less than three pound backpacking appropriate glory.
Branzino stuffed with lemon slices and seasoned with salt and olive oil.
Just stuff everything on in there. Unless you overcook it, this fish is quite moist.
When you get home from your successful but annoying trip to REI where you also bought these awesome foldable camping plates and iodine tablets, you will then discover that your boyfriend has set an ENTIRE CASE OF BEER on top of your pasta. It is a mess. They are all stuck together and you have to roll out your dough all over again and cut them again. 😦
While I was cutting up my pasta for the second time, I got a large pot of water boiling and set my oven to 400 F. I then got my fish out from the fridge and washed it. They had gutted and scaled it at the market for me, which was very nice of them. I sliced up a lemon from the garden, stuffed as much as I could into the cavity, then squirted the rest on top of the fish. I liberally sprinkled it with salt and then drizzled it with olive oil. Cook on one side for four minutes then flip it over and cook for another four minutes. Then turn the oven to broil and let it broil for about three to five minutes then take out of the oven. Foil will greatly help in the clean up.
Whole roasted branzino
While your fish cooking, make your pasta. It will cook in about five to seven minutes depending on how thick and wide your pieces are. Then drain and rinse. Whole wheat pasta can get a little gummy, hence the rinsing. Pasta made from semolina or all-purpose will most likely not need to be rinsed.
Top with fish, sauce, and maybe a bit of parmesan. Enjoy!