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Eric Akis: Roma tomato sauce pairs well with halibut and pasta

Easy-to-bake halibut plated and topped with a robust tasting, Mediterranean-style sauce made with fresh tomatoes and rich with olive, capers and garlic.
Halibut is baked, plated and topped with a roma tomato sauce rich with bits of olive, capers and garlic. ERIC AKIS

The other day I came home with some lovely locally grown roma tomatoes and wanted to use some of them in a sauce, I thought I could serve them with pasta or fish. In the end, I got to do both, creating a sauce for fish that could be served with pasta as a side dish.

That fish was halibut fillets. And I started making the sauce for them by submerging 454 grams of the roma tomatoes I bought in simmering water a short while, until their skins loosened.

The tomatoes were then lifted out of the water and cooled. The skins on the tomatoes were removed and so were the seeds inside them. The skinned and seeded tomatoes were then cubed and simmered in a Mediterranean-style, rustic, chunky sauce that also had bits of chopped olive, capers, garlic, shallots, stock and oregano in it.

Because the sauce was so flavourful, I decided to keep the preparation of the halibut very simple. I set the fillets on a baking sheet, brushed them with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and then baked them in a hot oven until cooked.

To remind you, when cooked, halibut fillets, or other fish fillets, should feel slightly firm, not hard, a sign you have overcooked them, and not soft, a sign they are not cooked through. When cooked, the flesh will also start to very slightly separate into flakes.

Once cooked, I plated the halibut, topped it with the roma tomato sauce and served it with sautéed rounds of zucchini. I also set some pasta, which I tossed with a bit of pesto that I had recently made, beside the fish, creating an appealing late-summer meal.

If you can find halibut or want to use another type of fish in the recipe, fillets of lingcod, grey cod and rockfish (also Pacific snapper) could also be used.

The recipes yield four servings, but if you were only serving two, you could cook two pieces of fish and make all of the sauce. Once dinner is done, freeze the leftover sauce you have for another time.

Halibut with Rustic Roma Tomato Sauce

Easy-to-bake halibut plated and topped with a robust tasting, Mediterranean-style fresh roma tomato sauce.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 lb. ripe roma (also called plum) tomatoes (about 5 to 6 medium to large ones; see Eric’s options)

1 Tbsp + 4 tsp olive oil (divided)

1 medium shallot, minced

1 large garlic clove, minced

7 pitted black olives, chopped

1 Tbsp capers

• pinch or 2 red pepper flakes

• pinch or 2 smoked or regular paprika

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

• pinch granulated sugar (optional; see Note)

1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or parsley, plus some sprigs for garnish (see Eric’s options)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 (5 to 6 oz./140 to 170 gram) halibut fillets

Bring a medium pot with about six inches of water in it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cut the stem end out of each tomato; mark a shallow X at the top of the blossom end. Set tomatoes in the simmering water for 45 seconds, or until the skins just start to loosen. Use a slotted spoon to lift the tomatoes out of the water, set on a plate, and cool a few minutes.

Peel the skins off the tomatoes and discard or compost then. Cut the skinned tomatoes in half lengthwise. Set a sieve over a medium bowl and squeeze or pull out the seeds from each half tomato into the sieve. Use a small whisk to push the liquid out of the seed mixture and into the bowl. Discard or compost the seeds. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the bowl with the tomato liquid.

Place the 1 Tbsp olive oil in a 9-inch-skillet set over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, olives, capers, pepper flakes and paprika and cook until garlic is very fragrant, about two minutes. Add the tomatoes, stock and sugar, if using. Bring sauce to a gentle simmer, adjusting heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down and form a chunky sauce. Stir in the chopped oregano (or parsley), season the sauce with salt and pepper, and then remove from the heat and cover.

To cook fish, preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat halibut fillets dry with paper towel, and then set on the baking sheet. Brush top of each piece of fish with 1 tsp olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Bake halibut 11 to 13 minutes, or until cooked through.

When fish is five minutes or so from being cooked, set sauce over medium-low heat and make warm again. When cooked, set a piece of halibut on each of four dinner plates. Top fish with the sauce, garnish with oregano (or parsley) sprigs, and serve.

Note: Adding a pinch of sugar to the sauce will help balance the acidity in the tomatoes.

Eric’s options: Other ripe red tomatoes, skinned, seeded and cubed, will also work in this recipe. You’ll need about 1 1/2 cups of cubed fresh tomatoes for the sauce. If you don’t have fresh oregano or parsley, add 1/2 to 1 tsp of either dried to sauce when first starting to simmer it.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.