Sea Bass with Tomato, Aubergine and Pearl Barley
It would be a cliche to say how much I was affected by a week I spent in Italy a few summers ago. But the place is full of cliches for a reason. The simplest of dishes, whether fresh pasta or a bowl of lightly seasoned tomatoes and basil, were among the most memorable. Most of the menus included a tomato and aubergine dish, usually as a parmigiana, and I could never resist. Here, aubergine and tomatoes create their own buttery, sweet and refreshing juice, which is soaked up by the plump barley as it soaks. A lovely combination for a fresh, white fish.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed with a little sea salt
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 1 aubergine, cut into 2–3cm cubes
- 200g cherry tomatoes
- 2 sea bass fillets, about 160g each
- 30g pine nuts, toasted
- Small handful of parsley leaves, finely chopped
- Juice of ½ lemon, to serve
- For the pearl barley:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ onion, thinly sliced
- 75g pearl barley, rinsed
- 375ml hot vegetable stock
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the crushed garlic and some seasoning together in a bowl, then add the aubergine and tomatoes and toss to make sure every bit is nicely coated. Spread out over a baking tray then place in the oven for 40–45 minutes, or until the aubergine is coloured and softened and the tomatoes have started to wrinkle.
Meanwhile, prepare the pearl barley. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and gently fry the onion until soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in the barley, then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes until tender and the stock has been absorbed. Season well.
Towards the end of the cooking time, season the sea bass fillets on both sides with salt. Warm the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the fish, skin-side down and fry for 3–4 minutes until the skin is golden and the fish is almost cooked. Turn and cook the other side for 1–2 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet.
Once the barley and the roasted veg are ready, tip the aubergine and tomatoes into the barley, folding them in gently so as not to squish them too much.
Divide the barley between 2 plates, sit the sea bass fillets on top and sprinkle with the pine nuts and parsley. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice over the fish before serving.