The Olives Table by Todd English, Sally Sampson (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

2004_09_olivesrecipe.jpgGothamist loves eating at the Olives restaurant in the W Union Square, but we like it even better when we make food at home and can't hold a conversation for all the mmm-ing and moaning. That's what happened when we made this week's recipe from Todd English's first cookbook, The Olives Table.

This book came out before English had an Olives restaurant in New York (or a Figs at LaGuardia, for that matter), but remains a great resource for combining fresh flavors in creative ways. And the recipes! The food is healthy comfort food with a Mediterranean twist. Although everything is packed with flavor and complex flavor combinations, most of the recipes are unfussy and fairly simple to make. We were amazed that it took us so little time in the kitchen to make something so mind-bendingly good. We're tempted to have people over to show off our kitchen skills to. Our dream menu would start with Olives marinated olives (which would also make a great gift), then the August Tomato Tart (good tomatoes are still available!) and the Shaved Raw Fennel and Red Onion Salad (the recipe follows), and straight on to Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble for dessert.

2004_09_olivestable.JPGIn addition to his two other books, The Figs Table and The Olives Dessert Table, Todd English has a somewhat-neglected "journal" at his website, ToddEnglish.com. The Recipes section of his site is extensive and includes some great selections from his cookbooks, including the Almond Crusted Snapper, this week's featured recipe.

The Recipes

A note on timing: To make dinner in about 40 minutes, while the garlic roasts, toast the almonds, prepare the salad, and combine all the other ingredients for the almond paste. When the garlic is ready and sufficiently cooled, add it to the almond paste. Cook the fish and then add the cheese to the salad at the last minute.

Almond Crusted Snapper
1/2 cup shelled almonds
1 bulb roasted garlic (see below), peeled
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 6-ounce red snapper fillets, preferably Gulf Coast, scored on the skin side

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toast the almonds in a large skillet over medium heat and cook, shaking or stirring occasionally, until the nuts are brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Place in a food processor and pulse until ground.

Place the almonds, roasted garlic, mustard, virgin olive oil, parsley, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper in a medium-sized bowl and mash to a paste. Ordinarily Gothamist would throw it all in the food processor but we want to preserve some varying texture here, so mashing is important.

Place a large cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Sprinkle the snapper with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/a teaspoon pepper. Add to the pan, skin side down, and cook until skin is crisp, about 2 minutes.

The recipe says to "turn the fillets over and spread the top" with the almond mixture, but we thought it would make more sense to put the paste on the non-skin side, so that's what we did. Place in the oven and bake until the crust is well browned, about 6 minutes. If you don't have an ovenproof skillet, do like we did and use a pyrex casserole dish for the baking portion. No big deal.

Shaved Raw Fennel and Red Onion Salad
3 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and very thinly sliced or shaved (with a Japanese mandoline or a meat slicer)
1 large red onion, thinly sliced or shaved (with the mandoline or slicer)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 large bunch arugula, well washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
Shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Combine all the ingredients except the Parmesan in a large serving bowl and toss well. Serve immediately, garnished with the shaved Parmesan cheese. (Gothamist couldn't get any Parmesan and used goat cheese instead, which was OK, but definitely not as good as Parmesan would have been.)

Roasted Garlic
1 garlic bulb, unpeeled, tops sliced off
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the garlic bulb in a small baking dish and sprinkle with the oil, salt, and pepper. Bake, uncovered, until the garlic is lightly browned and soft, about 25 minutes. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for no more than 1 week.