When I travelled to Italy I went to a bookshop in Florence to find a book that was written in English but was really based on local recipes. The owner of the bookshop spoke English and she led me to one called appropriately 'The Food of Italy' by Claudia Roden. It is divided into regions and contains many signature recipes from each. It is a wonderful book and everything that I have cooked out of it is fabulous but this particular recipe has become a staple. When I make a recipe, from any book, I write the date, notes on alterations and whether to repeat it, who I made it for if it was a dinner party or a special occasion, etc. This recipe was first made on August 28, 1998 for, it says, Friday Dinner. There are 3 more dates and the forth date it says 'becoming addicted!' written in the handwriting of an ex-boyfriend. I stopped writing after the 30th date that was wrapping around 3/4's of the page.
Here is my adaptation of;
Sogliole Alla Fiorentina; Sole, Florentine Style
I will tell you now, that I cheat. We cannot always find good fresh Sole here so I often use haddock, halibut fillet or cod. Any nice flaky white fish will do.
1kg (2lb 4oz) spinach, or 450g (1lb) frozen spinach thawed or 4 bags of baby washed spinach (yes 4)
salt and pepper
125g (4 and 1/2 oz) butter
8 fillets of sole (or 1 to 1-1/2 pounds haddock, cod or other flaky white fish)
1 glass white wine
50g (2oz) flour
500 ml (17fl oz) milk, heated
Freshly grated Parmesan and good white cheddar (you can use both or just the Parmesan to be authentic)
Warm the oven to 200C/400 F
Wash the spinach (or buy the bags of baby pre washed - if you use these, sprinkle in a TBS or two of water), place in a pan, cover and cook a few minutes with a little salt and the water that clings to the leaves, turning them over until the crumple. Drain well (A salad spinner works great for this), return to the pan with 25g (1 oz) butter and sauté briefly. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg (use whole and a grater for best taste). Grease an oven proof dish with butter or a bit of olive oil, line the bottom of the dish with the spinach.
In a saucepan on very low heat, add the milk and a peeled onion with a cross cut on each end. This step is heating the milk for the Bechamel you will make in a bit.
Heat the wine with 25g (1 oz) butter, salt and pepper in a frying pan. Poach the fish fillets for 1/2 a minute for Sole up to 5 - 8 minutes for a thick piece of haddock or halibut. You are looking for the edges to be opaque and don't worry if the center is not cooked, the dish will be going into the oven later. Carefully remove the fish fillets and place on top of the spinach in the oven proof dish. Let the sauce reduce to about 3 Tablespoons.
Now make the bechamel sauce: melt 50g (2oz) butter, add the flour and stir well for a minute or two. This will be thick. Add the warmed milk (remove the onion) gradually, stirring all the time until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add the reduced wine. Taste again. At this stage I often add a bit more wine.
Coat the fish with the sauce(Sometimes I chop up the onion that poached in the milk and sprinkle this on top as well) and sprinkle on the grated cheddar, if using, and then the Parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes.