A Babbo makes a Babbo Fish Dish…

…and becomes Molto Daddy-o to his children.

Img_4793Ever since Bill Buford wrote about his trial by fire at various stations at Babbo in the New Yorker (repeated in his engaging book Heat), I’ve wanted to subject myself to the vicarious challenge of cooking just about everything he described in that article under the pressures of a professional kitchen: the ravioli love letters with pancetta, mint, and chile flakes; pasta con vongole; the whole grilled branzino. I loved the idea of the ticking time bomb of a table-full of impatient diners. With a family of four to feed, that fantasy has become reality.

As summer threatens to wane in 90 degree heat across the country, and the propane levels on my grill tank drop, I tried the fish, based on approximate, unreliable memories of the article and the book. We’ve been trying to have more family meals to expand the palates of our brown-food loving children. My wife called from the Whole Foods fish counter, how bout some Branzino? I bit. And my kids did too.

It was my daughter’s first week of kindergarten. I had a nice bottle of domestic blanc de blanc bubbly that might just not survive this heat wave. Why not grill up twenty bucks worth of fish on Tuesday? It paid off, and my daughter now loves branzino (a sprinkling of “magic salt,” code word for kosher, on the first bite certainly helped as it does with any new food; no need to keep up the salination after that. It’s like the spoonful of sugar with medicine.) My son, after refusing multiple offers of the fish, saw me eating the tail and asked for one himself. He loved that, then jumped right into eating the rest of it. Mission accomplished.

Img_4798Buford-Babbo-Inspired Branzino for a Family of Four
Serve with grilled asparagus and grilled bread. Keep it easy.

2 whole branzino, gutted and scaled
1 fennel bulb, sliced, fronds removed and reserved
1 white onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
half a lemon, sliced thin
olive oil
salt and pepper

heat the grill to medium. Meanwhile, sautee onion, fennel, and garlic cloves in olive oil over medium heat in a pan until soft, about 8 minutes. Season with s and p. Stuff branzino with fennel-onion mixture, a couple of slices lemon, fennel fronds. Push it all in tightly so it doesn’t just fall out. Brush fish with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Grill each side for 8 minutes or so (roll it over onto the second side after the skin is crisp and releases somewhat easily from the grill. Use as big a metal spatula as you can to assist with the roll) or until cooked through. Season with s and p.

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