At his two San Francisco restaurants – the Michelin-starred Quince and the elegantly rustic Cotogna – Michael Tusk has shown his broad mastery of Italian food, serving everything from wood-fired pizzas to multicourse tasting menus. Here he shows us how a simple technique can elevate a common fish dinner: "Cod has a fairly high moisture content. Doing a light cure allows you to set the fish in the pan really quickly and get a nice crust. I chose it to create a textural contrast between the savory eggplant, and also to include a technique that maybe people haven't tried at home," says Tusk.
• 1 lb Atlantic cod fillets, skin removed
• 2 tbsp salt
• 2 cups Japanese eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
• 2 cups collard greens, cut into chiffonade
• 1 cup celery, cut diagonally
• 1/2 cup picholine olives, cut in half
• 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
• 1 cup olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
• 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
• 1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
Season the fillets with 1 tbsp salt, place them on a rack, and leave in refrigerator uncovered for 1 hour. At the same time, season the eggplant with the remaining salt and place in a colander for 1 hour. Meanwhile, boil the collard greens for 2 minutes.
After 1 hour, rinse the fish with cold water and pat dry. Rinse salt from the eggplant. Fill a 2-quart sauce pot with water and bring to a rapid boil. Add the eggplant and cook until tender, approximately 3 minutes. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. In the same water, boil the celery for 5 minutes, until al dente, and then combine with picholine olives and eggplant in a bowl. Add half the vinegar and half the olive oil to the eggplant-celery mixture.
Heat a 12-inch sauté pan until warm and add the remaining half cup of olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and toast until golden, then discard. Add the onion and sauté quickly (about a minute), then remove and add to the eggplant-celery mixture. In the same pan, cook the collard greens on low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Reserve warm, covered, until ready to serve.
Preheat oven to 450. Heat an 11-inch nonstick pan until hot, and then add a small amount of olive oil. Sauté the fish for 2 minutes and then place the cherry tomatoes in the pan and season them with pepper flakes. Remove from the stove and place in the preheated oven for 3 minutes. While the fish is cooking, spoon the collard greens onto the center of each plate.
Remove the pan with the fish from the oven. Place the fish on top of the collard greens and spoon the eggplant-celery relish, fish juices, and cherry tomatoes over the fish. Serve immediately.
"To me, this dish is comforting. As a guy coming home from work, you want to cook something quickly without a lot of components, but with a lot of flavor," says Tusk.