Isabel de Sousa makes this typical Portuguese recipe with salt cod (see Cook's Tip). But if she's in a hurry, she will substitute fresh fish. I've given you the choice of using fresh or canned tomatoes, depending on the season. If you don't want to be in the kitchen at the last moment, boil the potatoes, sear the fish and make the sauce ahead of time. Refrigerate separately, but bring to room temperature before you put the various parts together. Heat up the sauce, ladle it over the potatoes and fish, and place the dish in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Peel the potatoes and cut into slices ⅛ inch (3 mm) thick. Boil in salted water until just barely cooked, about 5 to 6 minutes. Drain and reserve. If using canned tomatoes, drain and reserve the juice from the cans for another use. Slice the tomatoes, fresh or tinned, reserving the juice and pulp that comes out of them.
Heat 2 Tbsp (30 mL) olive oil over medium heat in a deep frying pan, large enough to hold the onions and tomatoes. Sauté the onions for 4 to 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking for another 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, reserved juice and pulp, bay leaves, 6 whole basil leaves, wine, salt and pepper to the frying pan and simmer for 20 minutes.
Season the fish with salt and pepper and quickly sear both sides in 1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil over high heat (about 1 to 1½ minutes each side). Arrange an overlapping layer of potato slices in a 10½- x 6½-inch (26.5- x 16.5-cm) casserole dish 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) deep that is more than large enough to hold the fish in one layer.
Place the seared fish over the potatoes, discard the bay leaves from the tomato sauce, and spoon the sauce over fish and potatoes.
Bake, uncovered, for about 15 to 20 minutes, making sure not to overcook the fish. A good guide for baking or roasting fish is to allow 10 minutes in the oven for each 1 inch (2.5 cm) of thickness, cooking at 350° to 375°F (175° to 190°C). Allow a little bit more time if all the components are at room temperature.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley, julienned basil and lemon zest. Serve with thick slices of baguette to soak up the sauce.
1. If you want to make this in the traditional manner, you'll need to soak the salt cod in cold water for 24 to 36 hours, changing the water periodically. Then carefully poach it over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, making sure the water doesn't come to a boil. Layer the potatoes, fish and tomatoes. Bake until heated through.
2. Salt cod can be bought in Portuguese and Spanish fish and grocery stores. It can also occasionally be found in gourmet markets or in maritime specialty food stores.