When food budgets are small and appetites large, every home cook worth his or her salt tries to add sparkle to a meal that may be only leftovers. Sometimes the side dish can make the other dishes seem better than they really are. The Shakers and Pennsylvania Dutch were masters at serving many relishes and condiments to give different textures and flavors to a meal with a mundane main dish.
Onion shortcake is one of the dishes that can make a simple soup or salad seem special. Its trick (adding a rich topping to biscuits) is simple and clever.
Although onion shortcake doesn't belong on the table with fish fillets with meringue sauce, I wanted to pass on this unusual and pleasing recipe, an adaptation of Fish Mariposa from Helen Brown's "West Coast Cook Book" (Random House, 1991). The meringue sauce simply rounds out the fresh fish flavor without overwhelming it. Serve it with the biscuit recipe without the onion topping. (The biscuits take only 15 minutes to bake.) A nice addition with the fish is orzo with a little dill.
FISH FILLETS WITH A MERINGUE SAUCE
2 pounds fish fillets
2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing
2 bunches spinach, trimmed, washed, dried
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Lightly salt fish fillets on both sides and bake at 425 degrees in shallow baking dish greased with butter until fillets feel firm and have lost raw shiny look, 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over-bake. Remove from oven and set aside.
Blanch spinach in large pot of lightly salted boiling water just until spinach wilts, about 5 seconds. Drain spinach in colander and reserve.
Return empty pot to burner over medium heat. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and mix in lemon peel and 1 tablespoon juice. Stir in spinach. Taste, add salt and remaining lemon juice if necessary. Remove from heat and set aside.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Stir mustard into mayonnaise and gently fold mixture into egg whites. Gently fold in cheese.
Spread fish fillets with egg white mixture and place under broiler, about 6 inches from heat source. Broil just until egg mixture puffs and turns golden, 3 to 5 minutes.
While fish is cooking, divide spinach among 4 serving plates. When fish is done, place 1 fillet on each plate and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about:
453 calories; 929 mg sodium; 99 mg cholesterol; 24 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 45 grams protein; 0.76 gram fiber.
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, cut into 5 or 6 pieces
1 cup milk
With fork, stir flour, baking powder and salt together in large mixing bowl so salt and baking powder are thoroughly distributed with flour. Gently rub shortening into flour with your fingers, lifting and dropping bits of shortening as you rub. When shortening has been rubbed with flour mixture, it will look like collection of irregular bits. This process takes only 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir milk into mixture all at once with fork, mixing quickly to not overwork dough. Dough will be sticky, which is what makes biscuits so light. Flour your hands and gather dough into rough ball. Knead on floured board about 10 times. Roll out with hands or rolling pin into 8-inch square. Place in 8-inch square greased baking pan and pat to fill corners and even dough.
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
Melt butter in skillet and add onions. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until onions are soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Do not brown onions. Set aside.
Beat eggs, then stir in sour cream and salt. Stir in onions and mix well. Spread mixture over biscuit dough and bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake until top sets and is slightly golden, 20 to 30 more minutes. Check after 15 minutes to make sure shortcake isn't burning.
Makes 16 (2-inch square) shortcakes.
Each shortcake contains about:
159 calories; 413 mg sodium; 40 mg cholesterol; 10 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.16 gram fiber.
* "Minestrone" plate from Strata Group at Bristol Kitchens in South Pasadena.