This is a great recipe using the whole fish with heads removed (I often leave them on), but it can be done using bass fillet. If you choose to use fillet, blanch the fennel wedges for 15 minutes, then proceed with the recipe, diminishing the total cooking time of the fish by 15 minutes.
I love fish cooked on the bone, and I love the fish skin when it is crispy, but you can remove it easily once the fish is cooked by picking it off with a fork and spoon before deboning the fish.
- 1 large bulb fennel, cored, cut into ½-inch wedges
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking sheet
- Two 2-pound whole striped bass, cleaned, head removed
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- ½ cup white wine
- 3 ripe plum tomatoes, cored
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
- ¼ cup whole blanched almonds
- Handful fennel fronds
- Juice of ½ lemon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, and add the fennel. Blanch until crisp-tender, about 7 minutes, then drain well and season with ½ teaspoon salt.
Oil a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Make a bed of fennel on the baking sheet, and put the striped bass on top. Season the fish inside and out with 2 teaspoons of the salt, and put two garlic cloves in the cavity of each fish. Drizzle with the white wine, cover all lightly with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover, and roast for an additional 20 minutes until the fish is cooked through (skin crispy on the outside, fish tender when pierced with a fork).
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the tomatoes, the remaining clove of garlic, the basil, parsley, almonds, fennel fronds, lemon juice, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Process to a chunky paste, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and, with the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil to make a slightly chunky pesto. Scrape into a serving bowl, and reserve. When the striped bass is done, remove it with a spatula onto a platter, and debone each fish: open it along the belly part, and gently remove the center bone and all the small bones.
Put the fillets of bass and the fennel onto a platter with a spatula, and serve with a dollop of the tomato pesto on top of each piece of fish, and the remaining pesto on the side, so the guests can serve themselves more.