Week 18, Meal 1: Another gussied up fish dish

Sure, it’s rewarding to make great-tasting food at home, but there’s always an extra level of satisfaction when I put together something that looks like it belongs on some fancy restaurant menu.

Now, Chef Brian might disagree, but I think he’s at his best when he’s working with ahi tuna. There’s just something about the way he is able to contrast that neon pink flesh against eggplant, cous cous, beets … whatever.

Week 18, Meal 1: Fennel, black pepper, and parsley crusted ahi tuna over eggplant and pomegranate caponata with pomegranate balsamic drizzle is yet another stunner from his repertoire of  food that’s both beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat.

The Recipe (Yield: 2 servings)

2 5-oz. pieces ahi tuna
2 T chopped parsley
1 t black peppercorns
1 T fennel seed
salt, to taste
1 1/2 t vegetable oil

Eggplant and pomegranate caponata
1 c pomegranate juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T honey
1 T vegetable oil
2 cups (about 1 large or 2 chinese eggplant), medium dice
1/2 yellow onion, medium dice
1 bulb fennel, medium dice
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 c pomegranate seeds (trader joes has them on sale for 3.49 right now)
2 T pine nuts, toasted
1 T of the remaining spice mix from the tuna plus 1 T chopped parsley
salt, to taste

Get the prep out of the way first. Start by dropping the medium dice on 1 large eggplant (Video: How to dice eggplant).

Also, give 1/2 onion, 1 bulb of fennel and 2 roma tomatoes the (seed and) dice. Chop 3 T of parsley, reserving two tablespoons for the fish crust, and 1 tablespoon for the eggplant.

Reserve the fennel fronds.

In a small pot, combine 1 c of pomegranate juice, 1/4 c of balsamic vinegar and 1 T of honey. Bring to a boil, then reduce by half.

While the liquid for the caponata is reducing, create the crust for the fish. In a small food processor or blender (Magic Bullet works best), combine 2 T of your reserved parsley with 1 t of black peppercorn and 1 T of fennel seed. Blend until the mixture is well combined and the spices are crushed.

Heat a saute pan to medium/medium-low and toast 2 T of pine nuts. The process is quick, taking 30 seconds to 1 minute, so be careful not to scorch the nuts.

Heat 1 T of vegetable oil in a large saute pan over high heat. Add onion, fennel and eggplant. Saute for 5-6 minutes, until the vegetables soften. Take 3/4 of the pomegranate-balsamic reduction and add it to the vegetables, mixing well and cooking for another 1-2 minutes.

Continue to reduce the remaining 1/4 of the liquid just a little longer, until it becomes syrupy.

Turn  off the heat and add the tomato, pine nuts and 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds. Add 1 T of the spice mixture, plus the last reserved tablespoon of chopped parsley. Season with salt.

The timing is up to you, depending on your ability to multitask and the number of burners on your stove, so plan to have the fish done shortly after, or when the caponata is finished.

For the fish, crust 2 5-oz. pieces of ahi tuna with salt and the remaining spice mix. Heat 1 1/2 t of vegetable oil over high heat and sear each side of the fish for 30 seconds, to achieve a perfect medium-rare.

To plate: Mound 1 cup of caponata in the center of the plate. Drizzle around the mixture with the syrupy reduction. Top with sliced tuna and chopped fennel fronds. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and you’re done!

This meal packs a licorice punch, mostly from the fennel seed crust, but the delicate slices of tuna paired with the sweet-tart balsamic/juice reduction do wonders for the flavor of the dish. The onions and fennel bulb mellow out, and the eggplant soaks it all up.

I’ve never much eaten eggplant — it’s yet another new ingredient in the Fat Dude kitchen — but because of this caponata, it’s an ingredient I’m looking forward to using again soon.

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