Sea Bass Fillets with Porcini Mushrooms

At the risk of grievously insulting the restaurant by associating it with my pale knock-off of an imitation, I'll admit this dish, Sea Bass Fillets with Porcini Mushrooms, is loosely—loosely, mind you—inspired by a meal my family and I had at Da Antonio, one of the best seafood restaurants in Tuscany. The ebullient Antonio (who, upon learning we were from the U.S. asked "Do you know of my friend Lidia?" And yes, he meant that Lidia) serves a set menu each night "based on the condition of the sea, of the weather, and the season."

This was a hard-earned supper for us. When we tried calling a day earlier for a reservation, the phone number had been disconnected, and we were unsuccessful in our attempts to track down a more recent one. So we decided to reserve a table in person.

No biggie, right?

Well, this reservation involved an hour-plus drive over winding country roads, plus a trek on foot clear across the town of Castelnuovo—for a place that for all we knew, no longer existed (the book that pointed us to Da Antonio had been published in 1989). But, after a couple bouts of car sickness, a few wrong turns, and much wondering of "What the hell are we thinking?," we found ourselves standing in front of the restaurant. Bonus: the door was unlocked, even though this was hours before dinner time.

We made our reservation, trekked clear across town back to the car, and made the hour-plus drive home over winding country roads.

After all this, naturally, expectations were high once the appointed hour finally arrived. From our table, we could see baskets filled with freshly foraged porcini and other wild mushrooms—a very good sign indeed, and an enticing glimpse of pleasures to come.

Ultimately, the meal proved to be one of the best we had in Italy—-six courses, each unfussy and designed to showcase the impeccably fresh ingredients. First appeared a translucent fish carpaccio over frisee, topped with thinly sliced orange mushrooms and finished with olive oil and crunchy sea salt. After those plates had been taken away, we were treated to a little salad of arugula, raw porcini and tiny shrimp, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Next up was a silky fennel and potato puree enriched with cream and with a little surprise laid out on top: a tiny red mullet fillet. After that came cuttlefish with borlotti beans, tomato, and basil, an encore for the red mullet (fried this time), and, finally, the showstopper: a whole branzino liberally scattered with fresh wild mushrooms and roasted with olive oil. So simple, yet perfect.

And here's where we get to my unworthy little knock-off of a tribute. One of the many tasty things that traveled home in my suitcase with me was a big bag of dried porcini mushrooms. Now, dried porcini are
great—and these are probably the best you'll find anywhere. But, obviously, they need to be treated a little differently than the fresh kind.

In my first tinkering session for this post, I used whole branzino, which I stuffed with arugula and spinach and roasted. But Brian thought the fish looked too "real," so the second time around, I used sea bass fillets instead. Especially with the fillets, this recipe is super quick and easy—a simple matter of cooking the fish and putting the sauce together while it's in the oven. Just remember to soak the mushrooms thirty minutes before you start cooking!


1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (a good fistful)
2 sea bass fillets (about 3/4 pound)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

Soak porcini in 1 cup hot water for half an hour. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Chop porcini and strain soaking water. Season fish with salt and pepper. Sear fish skin down in a hot pan with 1 tablespoon oil until skin is crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer fish to an oiled baking dish. Roast until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, make sauce. Saute garlic in pan until fragrant, then add strained soaking liquid, mushrooms, and thyme. Reduce by about half. Stir in cream, and simmer gently until thickened. Season with salt and pepper, stir in parsley, and spoon over fish. Serve with polenta.

Categories: Main Dishes, Fish and Shellfish, Vegetables, Travel

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