Make cod stew with fennel, olives and orange essence in just one pot. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

Make cod stew with fennel, olives and orange essence in just one pot. (Photo by Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post)

Fish stew marries Sicilian trio of fennel, olives and orange

It calls for cod but any firm, white-fleshed fish like monkfish, halibut and sea bass will do.

This recipe is the food equivalent of a cozy sweater — one made of the most luxurious cashmere. It is big, warming bowl of comfort food, nourishing and easy for everyday eating, but with an elegance that allows it to cross over seamlessly to a dinner party. It marries the classic Sicilian trio of fennel, olives and orange — typically served together as a salad — in a robust one-pot meal.

The flavor of its fennel becomes deeper and mellower as it simmers and softens with the onion, garlic, carrot and celery in the tomato-infused fish stock. Strips of orange zest and bay leaf add layers of brightness to the mix. The stew’s base may be made and refrigerated a day ahead, or it may be frozen so it is at your fingertips whenever you need it. When you are ready to serve, just bring the base to a boil, then add the olives for a briny kick, and the fish.

Cod works beautifully, but you can use any firm, white-fleshed fish, such as monkfish, halibut and sea bass. The fish takes just five minutes to cook, so with the base already at hand you can fix dinner in a flash.

A squeeze of orange juice at the end imbues the stew with a fresh burst of citrus, for a dish which, like that sweater, will be one you reach for again and again.

Cod stew with fennel, olives and orange essence

Make ahead: The stew’s base can be refrigerated a day in advance, or frozen for up to 2 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

1 medium fennel bulb, preferably with stalks and fronds

1 navel orange, well scrubbed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium carrot, scrubbed well and diced

2 ribs celery, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 can (14.5 ounces) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, plus the juices

3 cups fish stock

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

⅓ cup pitted green olives, sliced

1½ pounds skinless cod fillets, cut into 1-inch chunks

Remove any stalks and fronds from the fennel bulb, reserving some of the fronds for garnish, but save the stalks for making stock or discard them. Remove and discard the core and the tough outer layer of the fennel bulb. Coarsely chop the rest of the fennel.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove 2 strips of zest from the orange, measuring 1-by-3 inches, being careful not to include any white pith. Then squeeze half the orange to yield 3 tablespoons of juice, reserving it to add later.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion, carrot and celery to coat; cook for about 5 minutes, until they have softened. Add the chopped fennel bulb and the garlic; cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the tomato paste.

Add the tomatoes with their juices, the fish stock, bay leaf, strips of orange zest, salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 25 minutes, until the fennel is tender. Discard the strips of orange zest and the bay leaf.

(At this point, the stew base can be cooled, transferred to a covered container and refrigerated a day in advance, or frozen.)

When you are ready to serve, return the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then add the olives and the fish. Once the mixture begins to bubble at the edges, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and flakes easily. Stir in the reserved orange juice and remove from the heat.

Serve hot, garnished with some reserved fennel fronds.

Makes 4 to 5 servings (about 9 cups). Nutrition per serving (based on 5): 250 calories, 29 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 600 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 9 grams sugar.

Ellie Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and cookbook author.

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