Cuisina Povera—the cuisine of poverty—in the form of beans, was a big fad at the beginning of the decade. We were all feeling poor, whether we were or not, but to eat poor stylishly seemed critical to our well-being. Beans were also good for us and so politically correct if cooked without meat. Tuscan beans with olive oil (extra virgin, of course) showed up in chic trattorias and in all the glossy food magazines. American baked beans were okay, even fashionable—but only if made in the authentic old style. If they came out of a famous-maker can and were gussied up with molasses and ketchup, and even—horrors!—hot dogs, as our mothers had done, they were definitely not okay. For those of us who still craved a little animal protein with our legumes, fish and beans were the thing. Shrimp with lentils, salmon with black beans…these were adjudged much more hip than pork and beans. And because cod was a traditional food of the European poor, what could be a better Nineties match than cod and beans?
Cod with Lentil and Olive Oil
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
1 ½ cups lentils
5 cups hot chicken stock or water
Salt to taste
4 (8-ounce) cod fillets
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup dry white wine
Heat the 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and celery. Cook over low heat until soft. Add the garlic and bay leaf and continue cooking until the garlic is soft. Stir in the lentils and toss with the vegetables for 1 minute, then add the hot chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are almost tender, stirring occasionally (about 30 minutes). Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Finish cooking the lentils and set aside, but keep them warm. Heat the ¼ cup olive oil in a large heavy skillet and cook the cod fillets over medium-high heat on one side about 6 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Turn the fillets and finish cooking, about another 3-6 minutes, until the fish is opaque all the way through. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the lentils onto hot plates and top with the cod fillets. Add the wine to the skillet and cook over high heat until reduced by about half. Pour the wine over the cod fillets and serve at once.
Makes 4 servings