Sole Florentine

This is adapted from an old-fashioned dish of classic French cuisine which refers to anything seated on spinach as á la florentine. At its worst the description on a menu means overcooked fillets of sole on stringy spinach with a floury béchamel and a gratin involving cheap cheese. Here the dish owes more to Italy than France, for it includes uncooked Parmesan cheese to finish it In a sense the classic recipe has been disassembled and the constituent elements put back together in a lighter and fresher way.

Buy large soles (inexplicably called 'blanket soles') and work on the basis of 350 g/¾lb of whole fish per person. Have your fishmonger skin and fillet the sole for you, making sure you get the bones and trimmings for the sauce.

This is a dish that requires careful planning and swift execution, but is in no way difficult Avoid doing it for a formal dinner party. Instead, this an ideal supper dish for friends who can be sitting and waiting. The sauce can be used with other fish and, surprisingly, freezes well.

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Ingredients

  • 1.35kg/3lb Dover soles (see above), skinned and filleted
  • 675 g/lb fresh spinach
  • 1 lemon
  • 115g/4oz butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 55 g/2oz Reggiano Parmesan cheese, to serve

For the Sauce

  • bones and trimmings from the soles, head discarded
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 30 g/1 oz butter
  • 1 glass (150ml/¼pt) of dry white wine
  • 300 ml/1 ½pt double cream
  • 1 bay leaf

Utensils

  • small saucepan
  • sieve
  • salad spinner
  • flat baking tray or non-stick Swiss roll pan
  • large heavy frying pan colander
  • potato peeler (if shaving Parmesan) or grater

Method

Mise en Place

First make the sauce: cut the sole bones and trimmings with scissors into 2.5cm/1in pieces. Rinse and drain. Peel the carrot and dice it Trim the leek, cut it into rounds and chop the celery stalk • In a small saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the vegetables and bones and trimmings and sweat together, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Do not allow to colour. Add the white wine and turn the heat up to medium. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for a further 15 minutes, until the cream is syrupy. Add the bay leaf for only the last 3 minutes of cooking, otherwise its flavour will be too intrusive • Sieve the sauce into a bowl, wash the saucepan and return the sieved sauce to it Taste and season accordingly. If the sauce is not of a coating consistency, return to a medium heat and simmer until it coats the back of the stirring spoon. Reserve and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to its highest setting • Wash and pick over the spinach and spin it as dry as possible (this is essential) • Juice the lemon.

Prepare the fish: cut the sole fillets lengthwise into 7.5cm/3in oblongs about 3.5cm/1 ½in wide. Brush the baking pan with about 1 tablespoon of water and arrange the pieces of sole on it, leaving small gaps between the pieces. Dot each piece with a little of the butter and season lightly.

Cooking

Put the sauce in its pan over a very low heat as it burns easily.

Place the pan of sole in the oven. You now have about 5 minutes to cook the spinach before the fish is ready.

Put a large heavy frying pan on a high heat Add half the remaining butter and immediately add the spinach. The pan will seem over-full but the spinach will start to wilt immediately. Toss and turn the spinach as it cooks very quickly. You are trying to, cook at a pace which allows the water to evaporate as it cooks. Season at the end - it takes plenty of seasoning.

If it has gone watery in the pan, then tilt the pan and press excess moisture out as you do not want any green-tinted water swilling about on the plates. If very watery, drain in a sieve, pressing lightly. This whole process should take no more than 2 minutes. This is really the best way I know to cook spinach.

Rush to the oven and peer at the sole. When cooked, the small pieces of fillet will have shrunk quite alarmingly and exuded quite a lot of water, which will be mingled with the melted butter on the tray.

Retain all the juices on the baking sheet and add these to the sauce, as they have masses of flavour. Turn up the heat under the sauce and whisk in the remaining butter in small pieces, together with a few drops of lemon juice. Take off the heat to prevent the sauce separating.

Serving

Transfer the spinach to the centre of four very large warmed dinner plates. Place the sole on the beds of spinach: there should be about 5 pieces per person. Spoon the sauce over the sole (do not drown, 2 or 3 tablespoons per serving will be enough). Sprinkle with grated Parmesan or shave curls of the cheese over and serve at once.

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