Weary of cooking? This simple dinner will invigorate. – The Denver Post

By David Tanis, The New York Times

I’m getting tired of reading the news anxiously each morning, tired of bad behavior everywhere, tired of witnessing fear and loathing and oppression, tired of politics. It’s a rough time. But, though some days I want very simple food, I’m not tired of cooking.

I’m also not tired of going to the farmers’ market, or of spending time in kitchen. I don’t tire of cooking pasta, warming garlic in olive oil or making toast. I still get excited when a bite of food tastes inordinately good. I still want to make a salad and put on a pot of beans. And there’s still comfort in watching the seasons change.

I do understand the concept of kitchen burnout, more so with the doubled-up stress of the pandemic and the holidays, but the act of cooking and the ritual of sharing food can be relaxing, grounding and positive.

Think of this menu as a fun one to cook, maybe in a week or so. It’s easy enough to prepare for a special weeknight, though, of course, each of the dishes can stand alone, too.

Fennel Salad With Anchovy and Olives

There was beautiful fennel at one farmer’s stand the other day. Now is the time for it. It does well in cool temperate zones, growing slowly, feathery fronds swaying. Chilly weather accentuates the fennel’s sweetness and anise perfume. Cutting into the bulb reveals its crisp, pale celadon center.

Thinly sliced, it makes a most refreshing salad. Fennel dressed with anchovy, lemon juice, green olives and fruity olive oil is a combination I’ll never tire of. Don’t be afraid of the anchovy; rinsing and blotting the fillets tames the harshness.

If you happen to have a preserved lemon or two on hand, a bit of the salty chopped rind adds depth. This makes a zesty, welcoming first course — or a fine salad to eat for lunch. Dress it just before serving, so the sliced fennel stays crisp. It may seem silly to smash and pit your own green olives, but the shape looks better and they taste meatier that way. (In any case, please, don’t cut pitted olives crosswise into little round slices.)

Cod and Mussel Stew With Harissa

The fish man had haddock, cod and hake for sale (I went for the cod) and shiny black mussels from Prince Edward Island. I thought they should marry. The fish could marinate in a mixture of cilantro, cumin and coriander, a clever Moroccan custom. Steamed together, the mussels would contribute their briny juices to the broth. Enhanced with a dab of spicy harissa, the resulting stew, served in big bowls, was deeply flavorful. Was it tiresome? Not at all — it was dreamy.

Olive Oil-Walnut Cake With Pomegranate

You may not want a real dessert after this meal. I’d be happy with a bowl of tangerines and a juicy pomegranate, or a scoop of ice cream, but why resist an olive oil walnut cake, just a little slice? You can absolutely bake the cake in advance. It actually keeps well for several days, and seems to improve with age, in fact. Your choice: elegant dessert or perfect breakfast.

Extra-virgin olive oil gives the cake richness and a tender crumb. There’s also an orange syrup to drench it with, best done on the day it’s served. A spoonful of crème fraîche or yogurt and a topping of bright red pomegranate seeds make the cake a festive sight.

So, no, I’m not tired of cooking. In truth, somehow, preparing a good meal — or one good dish — is invigorating.

Fennel Salad With Anchovy and Olives

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 20 minutes


For the Dressing:

  • 4 anchovy fillets, rinsed, blotted dry and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced preserved lemon, rinsed and blotted dry (optional)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, grated or mashed to a paste
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the Salad:

  • 3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • About 1/2 cup green olives, such as Castelvetrano or Lucques, smashed and pits removed (about 16 olives)
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs (8 minutes), peeled and halved
  • Extra anchovy fillets, for garnish (optional)
  • Handful of Italian parsley leaves, for garnish


1. Make the dressing: Put chopped anchovies, lemon juice and zest, preserved lemon (if using) and garlic in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk in olive oil.

2. Prepare the salad: Place sliced fennel in a salad bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Add olives and dressing, and toss to coat.

3. Transfer to serving platter or individual plates. Surround with halved eggs (draped with more anchovy fillets, if desired), and scatter parsley leaves over the top.

Cod and Mussel Stew With Harissa

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


For the Harissa:

  • 1 roasted red bell pepper (fresh or jarred)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground caraway
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the Stew:

  • 2 pounds cod, haddock or hake, cut into 12 (3-inch) chunks
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 large shallots, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more sprigs, for garnish
  • Pinch of red-pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomato
  • 2 pounds small mussels, scrubbed


1. Make the harissa: In a blender or small food processor, place roasted pepper, garlic, paprika, cumin, caraway, cayenne and salt. Add 1/2 cup oil and pulse briefly to a smooth purée, making sure not to overprocess. Transfer to a bowl. (Alternatively, finely chop the roasted pepper by hand, and mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.) Set aside.

2. Season fish chunks on both sides with salt and pepper, and place in a bowl. Add garlic, shallot, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, chopped cilantro and red-pepper flakes. Toss to coat evenly and leave to marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Set a Dutch oven or wide heavy pot over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. When oil is wavy, add fish chunks in one layer and let sizzle for 1 minute. Add bay leaves and tomato (and any remaining marinade) plus 1 cup water, and bring to a brisk simmer. Set mussels on top of fish chunks and cover pot. Cook 5 to 7 minutes, until mussels have opened. Turn off heat and leave covered for 5 minutes before serving.

4. Divide seafood among deep plates or low soup bowls. Ladle juices from pot over each serving. Dollop each serving with about 2 tablespoons harissa. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Pass more harissa at the table.

Olive Oil-Walnut Cake With Pomegranate

Yield: 10 servings

Total time: 1 1/2 hours


For the Cake:

  • 1/2 cup/120 milliliters extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup/130 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1 cup/100 grams toasted, chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup/120 milliliters buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest

For the Syrup:

  • 1/2 cup/100 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 cup/240 milliliters orange juice (from 3 medium oranges)
  • 1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 cup crème fraîche, lightly whipped cream or thick yogurt, for serving (optional)
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (arils)


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan or cake pan. Place a parchment circle in bottom of pan and lightly oil parchment. Dust with flour and shake off excess. Set pan aside.

2. Add the walnuts to a food processor and grind to a coarse powder. Place ground walnuts in a bowl, and add 1 cup flour, baking powder and salt. Stir and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. With a rubber spatula, transfer the whites to a sheet of parchment or to a separate bowl.

4. Put egg yolks in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add sugar and whisk on low speed until sugar is dissolved. Then increase speed and continue beating, scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes.

5. Beat in buttermilk, vanilla extract and orange zest, then slowly add the flour mixture at low speed. Slowly add 1/2 cup/120 milliliters olive oil and beat for a minute or so to combine. Using a rubber spatula, quickly fold in the reserved beaten egg whites. (First, fold in 1/3 of the whites to lighten the batter, then fold in remaining whites.) Scrape batter into prepared cake pan, put pan on a baking sheet and place in oven on middle shelf.

6. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack, then invert onto a cake plate.

7. Meanwhile, make the syrup: In a small saucepan, put sugar, orange juice, cinnamon stick and cloves. Simmer over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Spoon half the syrup over top of cooled cake. Cut cake into wedges and serve with a dab of crème fraîche, if desired. Spoon more syrup over each portion. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

And to Drink …

Spicy heat like the harissa in this dish is notoriously difficult to pair with wine. My strategy: Ignore it. Drink what you like, unless it’s a fine, subtle, rare or expensive wine, in which case you run the risk of missing out on the nuances that are intrinsic to such wines. Otherwise, don’t worry. You could go in several directions with this seafood stew. Dry whites on the lean and less-oaked side would be fine choices, particularly something like Muscadet, albariño, Sancerre, vermentino, verdicchio or Vinho Verde. Dry rosés would also be delicious, and you could even try a light red, like a traditionally made Valpolicella, an easygoing Ribera Sacra or a frappato from Sicily. Sherry lovers know this would be a good opportunity for a chilled manzanilla. — Eric Asimov

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