We’re headed for another cold snap this weekend with the possibility of snow at sea level for the first time in 35 years (!!), so I took the chance of some sunshine yesterday to go on a photowalk.
Spring comes early to our part of the Bay Area. By mid-January, blooming trees start lining the streets. The early bloomers get a headstart, foreshadowing the beauty that is to come and remains with us until April. It is a beautiful time of the year (I seem to say that for every season), and irresistibly photogenic. There have been too many occasions when I’ve thought to myself that I should go on a photowalk, and don’t. Yesterday was different. The prospect of a winter storm blowing the petals off these delicate flowers was compelling enough to get me out of the house and immortalize them before it was too late.
In a juxtaposition of seasons, these blooms were the minority on a street populated with barren trees in the thick of winter. Stripped of their leaves, each tree’s unique structure was laid bare for everyone to see. It’s a characteristic of winter’s landscape that I’m often awed by – the shape and curve of each branch that collectively create a soft, clean silhouette, revealing the personality of each tree that we often take for granted under its lush foliage in the warmer months.
Winter/Spring in the Bay Area also means citrus season, and I had to make a pit stop to marvel at the Meyer lemon trees in our community garden that were heavy and bursting with fruit. Look out for a recipe or two featuring these gorgeous gold treasures in the coming weeks.
And then I came home and promptly made a light lunch of fish cooked en papillote. It’s one of the simplest and most efficient way of preparing fish with almost anything you have on hand. In the summer we like to use zucchini, peppers and tomato for a ratatouille-esque spin; now in late winter, it’s fennel and carrots, perhaps with thin shavings of yukon gold potato for a heartier package. Mushrooms, parsley and lemon are the absolute basics and feature in every variation, occasionally spiced up with a garlic clove or two.
Fish en Papillote
This version is double-wrapped in parchment and foil to really trap the moisture during cooking. I’ve used shiitake mushrooms here, but Nameko mushrooms are another favorite of mine. Any white-fleshed fish (like halibut, sole or Atlantic cod) would suit this cooking method.
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, cut into eighths and julienned
5 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 white fish filets, about ½-pound/ 225 grams each, deboned and cleaned
4 sprigs of parsley
2 sprigs of thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
Half a lemon, cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut two pieces of parchment paper and foil, each measuring 15-by-20 inches and lay them, parchment atop foil, on your work surface.
2. In the middle of each parchment, evenly distribute about ¾ of the carrot, fennel and mushroom across the two pieces, creating a ‘bed’ for the fish to rest on. This ‘bed’ should approximately match the length of your filet.
3. Lightly season each filet with a sprinkling of salt, then lay them on the bed of vegetables. Top with the rest of the vegetables.
4. Add the thyme and parsley sprigs and a good sprinkling of pepper. Drizzle each package with two tablespoons of olive oil.
5. Bring the long edges of the parchment towards the middle and start crimping the edges together by folding over them twice. Work your way from the middle to the edges of the package, then fold the side edges in so that they bunch together. Wrap the foil around each parchment package, sealing them the same way.
6. Place the packages on an unlined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Let each package rest for 2-3 minutes before serving with a wedge of lemon.