Recipe: A sauce with fish

Courtesy Lynda Balslev

It's tempting to focus solely on the sauce in this recipe, since you may want to eat it with a spoon. I won't discourage you from that, but I will suggest you make a large batch so you can enjoy it as a versatile and year-round condiment.

This recipe looks to the Italian puttanesca sauce for inspiration. It's packed with juicy summer tomatoes, sweet peppers, briny olives and capers, and subtly infused with anchovy. Anchovy, you may wince? You bet. Don't be intimidated by these little fishies. When they are of high quality, their flavor is mild and buttery, reinforced by sea salt and a touch of briny flavor that melts into the sauce. When used with restraint, they disappear, even while providing discreet, savory, umami notes. The olives and capers step in and wake the sauce up (not that it's a snoozer to begin with) and provide sharp, juicy pops of flavor. 

This sauce is a sum of its many parts, all of which bond like kindred spirits and create a bright, balanced compote with myriad uses. Spoon it over roasted and grilled fish and chicken, ladle it over pasta, or spread it on toast and flatbreads and melt a blob of mozzarella on top. In addition to its versatility, this sauce is a smart do-ahead recipe, because the flavors develop with time. Make a jar and stash it in the fridge for use throughout the week, or freeze it for longer storage.

Take advantage of summer's fresh tomatoes and sweet peppers; roast them in the oven or on the grill. If not in season, you can adapt to your pantry and use canned fire-roasted tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers. (Substitute one (28-ounce) can whole fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed by hand, and two large jars roasted red peppers, finely chopped.)

Grilled Swordfish With Roasted Tomato, Pepper and Olive Sauce

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes, plus oven roasting time 

Yield: Serves 4

▶ 6 to 8 plum (Roma) tomatoes, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds, halved 

▶ Olive oil

▶ Kosher salt

▶ 1 large or 2 medium red bell peppers, halved, seeds and membranes removed

▶ 4 garlic cloves, minced

▶ 2 to 3 anchovies, finely chopped 

▶ 2 tablespoons drained capers

▶ 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano) 

▶ 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

▶ 2 tablespoons tomato paste

▶ 1/3 cup halved and pitted Kalamata olives

▶ 1/3 cup halved and pitted Castelvetrano olives

▶ 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

▶ 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

▶ Freshly ground black pepper

▶ 4 swordfish steaks (or other firm-fleshed whitefish fillets), each 6 to 8 ounces

▶ Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

▶ Lemon wedges

If using a grill, lightly brush the tomatoes with oil and season with salt. Grill the tomatoes, cut side down first, until the skins char and wrinkle, turning occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the skins and chop the tomatoes. Transfer to a bowl with any collected juices. 

Grill the peppers over direct heat until charred and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a bowl. Cover the bowl and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel and discard the skins and chop the peppers.

If using an oven, heat to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Arrange the peppers, cut side down, on the same baking sheet. Lightly drizzle the vegetables with oil and season with a pinch of salt. Transfer to the oven and roast until the vegetables are charred in spots and softened, and their skin shrivels, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool to the touch, then peel away the skins and chop the vegetables.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Add the anchovies, capers, oregano and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and stir to toast and make a slurry, about 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes and juices, red peppers and olives and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and season with salt and black pepper. 

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Lightly brush the swordfish with oil and season with salt and black pepper. Grill the fish over direct heat until just cooked through the center, 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Serve the fish with the sauce spooned over and around the fish. Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at


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