DENTICE ALLA LIVORNESE (Tuscan baked whole red snapper with tomato, basil and black olives, for four as a main course and for eight as part of a buffet)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 pounds plum tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cup black Kalamata olives, pitted
2 cups fresh basil, torn into bite-sized pieces
a 4-1/2 to 5 pound red snapper, gutted and scaled with head and tail left on
fresh basil sprigs for garnish
1. Heat oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, parsley and garlic. Saute until onion is tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and bay leaves. Cover and cook until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. (Can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before proceeding).
2. Preheat oven to 400* and lightly oil a large, shallow, oven-to-table baking dish. Rinse snapper under cold tap water, pat it dry with paper towels and place it in dish. Rub lightly with olive oil and season, inside and out, with salt and pepper. Ladle two cups warmed Livornese sauce on top. Scatter olives over fish, cover with oiled aluminum foil and bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until fish is opaque, springy to the touch and flakes easily.
3. Add the basil to the remaining sauce and ladle it over the fish before serving. Garnish with additional basil.
NOTE: For an eight pound snapper, double the amount of sauce and bake 1-1/2 hours. Tuna steaks or shrimps are also traditional with this sauce. In Tuscany, the mixture of chopped vegetables and herbs used here is called either tritore (to mince), or odori, after the aroma that emerges as you mince or cook it. Greengrocers often tuck the collection into your bag as you leave the shop.
adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, May, 2000