When we hear “Florentine”, our thoughts immediately gravitate to spinach and Italy. Interestingly enough, the phrase a la Florentine was actually coined by the French. While we might not fully know why Florence is so often associated with spinach, some believe the style of dish was named for the birthplace of Catherine de Medicis; who introduced Spinach into Callic cuisine with her marriage to France’s Prince Henry in 1533.
Spinach is though to have been brought to Sicily by Arab merchants over 1,200 years ago. The plants thrived in the Mediterranean regions; especially parts of Italy and Spain. But it was Catherine de Medici, all of 14 when she became queen of France, was so devoted to spinach that she is said to have brought bundles of it with her to her wedding. Others claim that the spinach was already growing in Marseilles; and the young bride’s chefs; familiar with the greens; cooked it for the wedding.
To be truly Florentine; a dish needs spinach, Mornay Sauce, Grated Cheeses and an au gratin finish. In other words, the dish must be baked with a topping of seasoned breadcrumbs and cheese. So in the strictest sense of Florentine, this cod ain’t it, but close enough for most of us.
Cod Fish Florentine
1 cup Red Bell Pepper
2 Garlic Cloves
1 tablespoon Olive Oil, divided
2 tablespoons Butter, divided
9 oz fresh Baby Spinach Leaves
Kosher Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste
2 oz Cream Cheese
1/4 cup Half and Half
3 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese, grated
4 (5 oz) thick Cod or Halibut Filets
Basil, as desired for garnish
1 Lemon as desired
Stem, core and remove seeds from the bell pepper. Chop the pepper; set aside. Peel and finely mince the garlic; set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Swirl the pan to coat, add red bell pepper and cook for about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute.
Remove skillet from heat; add spinach. Cover and let spinach wilt down. Return to heat; add cream cheese; half and half and Parmesan Cheese. Stir to blend; let cream cheese melt. The mixture should resemble creamed spinach. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
Heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining oil and butter; swirl the pan to coat. Season the fish with a pinch of salt and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Place seasoned fish into the hot skillet. Cook for 6 minutes; carefully turn and continue to cook for another 5 to 6 minutes or until nicely browned with meat that is flaky.
While the fish cooks; chop basil as desired for garnish and set aside. Cut lemon into four wedges; set aside.
Divided the spinach mixture between four dinner plates, spread to create a bed. Place one piece of fish on each spinach bed. Garnish with some parsley and serve with a lemon wedge. If desired, season with additional fresh black pepper.