Pan-Seared Snapper with a Salad of Orzo, Sweet Corn, Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

        From the blog For Love of the Table
 
3 T. chopped fresh basil
3 T. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 T. chopped fresh mint
6 T. olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 heaped T. capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/2 t. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 large or 3 medium ears of corn (in the husk)
3 small or 2 medium zucchini (about 10 oz. total), ends trimmed and cut into a 1/3-inch dice (you should have 2 cups)
1 1/2 c. orzo pasta (about 9 oz.)
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, washed, stemmed and quartered
1/3 c. pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
2 T. red wine vinegar (to taste)
Olive oil, as needed
6 4- to 6-oz. snapper filets, skin-on, scaled and scored three or four times
 
Make a salsa verde (Italian green sauce) with the first 8 ingredients: Chop the herbs, immediately submerging them in the olive oil and then adding the lemon zest, capers, garlic, salt and pepper. Set aside to allow the flavors to blend. (This sauce will be used to dress the orzo. If you like, prepare double the amount. The extra sauce can be used to drizzle over the fish. Salsa verde is a classic accompaniment to fish.)
 
Place the corn directly onto the oven rack of a preheated 375° to 400° oven. Roast for 20 minutes. As soon as the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silks (the corn continues to cook as long as it is enclosed in the hot husk). Cut the kernels away from the cob. Use the backside of the knife to scrape the cobs in order to get all of the corn. You should have about 2 cups corn and scrapings.
 
While the corn roasts, place the zucchini in a wide sauté pan that is large enough to hold the zucchini in a tight single layer. Add enough water to come about 1/2 way up the sides of the zucchini (1/4 cup?) and drizzle in some olive oil (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons). Season with salt and place the pan over moderately high heat. Briskly simmer the squash, tossing or gently stirring occasionally until just tender (it should not be mushy!), all of the water has evaporated and the squash is beginning to sizzle in the oil—about 5 minutes. If the squash begins to color before it is done, add a drizzle of water and continue to cook. Scrape the squash onto a baking sheet and let cool.
 
In a large saucepan of generously salted water boil the orzo until al dente—about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large, wide bowl. Toss with a splash of olive oil. Let cool, stirring occasionally (if you prefer, you may transfer it to a baking sheet to cool—return it to the bowl before proceeding with the recipe).
 
When the orzo is no longer hot, stir in the corn, salsa verde, zucchini, tomatoes, olives, vinegar and salt & pepper to taste. If you like, drizzle in more olive oil. 
Set aside while you cook the fish.The orzo salad can be made ahead (earlier in the day, for example).If making more than an hour ahead, refrigerate. It is in fact better when the flavors have some time to blend and be absorbed by the orzo.Taste again before serving and correct the flavor balance as necessary with salt, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil.
 
Cook the fish: Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy sauté pan (non-stick is a good idea) over medium high heat—the pan should be just large enough to hold the fish.If the pan is not large enough o cook all of the fish at once, either use two pans, or cook the fish in batches.While the pan heats, dry the filets with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.Add enough oil to the pan to coat the bottom—when the pan is hot enough, the oil will slide easily across the pan—a wisp or two of smoke should be just barely forming. If the oil smokes profusely, the pan is too hot.Add the filets to the pan, skin-side down.The fish will want to curl up, so press down lightly with a spatula to force all of the skin into contact with the pan.Cook until the skin is golden brown and crisped—about 3 minutes.Carefully turn and cook the other side until just done...a knife inserted in the thickest part of the filet should reveal a pearly opaqueness...another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.(If you choose a fish that is very thick, you may need to transfer it the pan to a 375° to 400º oven to finish the cooking.)
 
To serve, place a large spoonful of the orzo salad on each plate and top with the fish (placed crispy, skin-side up).Garnish with a sprig of basil or parsley, if you like.If you have made extra sauce, drizzle some of the sauce over the fish.Serves 6 generously.
 
Notes:
  • Any medium textured, flaky fish may be substituted for the snapper in this recipe...barramundi, salmon, bass, etc. You could also substitute skinless filets of cod, halibut or grouper.
  • In my original version of this recipe, I did not include the zucchini.I also added about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of finely diced and rinsed red onion.You may add neither or both...as you prefer.
Recipe adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt)