When I was a kid, the beginning of spring meant several things. For one, the days were getting longer so streetlights came on later. To any kid living under the “you can stay out and play until the street lights come on” rule, this meant we all got a little longer to revel in a heated game of ringolevio. Spring also meant asparagus would venture onto my plate alongside a lamb shoulder chop, a meal I still have to welcome the vernal equinox today. All other signs of spring, like chocolate bunnies, new Sunday shoes and daffodils were welcomed with equal enthusiasm and glee. All but one. Spring cleaning.
You're nodding right now, aren’t you? You too know that time of year when mothers everywhere, who were taught by their mothers, who I’m certain were taught by their mothers, were convinced that the spring couldn’t, well, spring until everything was cleaned to within an inch of its life. And when I say everything I mean EVERYTHING. Things you would never think needed cleaning, that no one would eversee (apart from a spider or two) were dusted, swept, spritzed and scrubbed until sparkling. Hutches happily living undisturbed suddenly moved away from cozy corners so dust that truly belonged behind could be eradicated. Backs of sofas never meant to see daylight were vacuumed and moved back to where no one would see them again. Every knic and knac washed clean, along with every square inch of window and floor. And if you were an able-bodied kid with any time on your hands (or just within mother-sightlines), you were sucked into the spring-cleaning vortex.
I’d try to get out of the chores assigned, but no whining, cajoling or feigning infirmity ever worked. Any clever attempts at explaining the logic that no one would ever know if the back of that dresser was clean were met with the all-final “I’LL know." Case closed. My only consolation was knowing that when I was finally out on my own and the vernal equinox rolled around, there was no way I was going to do this nonsense. And I didn’t…well, after a year or two of trying not to.
These days when the calendar hits that third week of March, I buy bunches of daffodils and asparagus. Then I whisper a little “you’re welcome” behind my sofa to the spiders. They’ll earn their springtime reprieve by munching mosquitoes in a few months.
One of the annual signs of spring happens in my freezer. More a winter purge than a spring thaw, I peruse the collection of dishes played with over a long winter in search of new combinations that will move them from freezer to plate. That’s exactly how this week’s recipe sprang forth from my freezer’s dormant yet fertile ground. The remaining stewed tomatoes made for New Year’s Day met two wild albacore filets and became Spring Cleaning Fish Stew. It’s a little like cioppino, a bit like puttanesca but with a sauce more brothy and lighter. Which is perfect for the warmer yet not quite balmy weather of the first week of spring.
Spring Cleaning Fish Stew
I served this over a simple polenta, but it would be great over pasta or by itself in a bowl with some crusty bread too.
3 cups stewed tomatoes (you could use my recipe, or your favorite canned variety)
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 6oz. tuna filets, or any other flakey fish (swordfish or cod would work well), about ½ - ¾ inches thick
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 TBSP drained capers
1 TBSP white balsamic vinegar or white champagne vinegar
1 TBSP lemon juice, plus extra for squeezing on top
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Add everything but the fish into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Season the fish generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Nestle the filets into the sauce, making sure to spoon some over the tops of the filets. Reduce sauce to a simmer, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook another 5 minutes or until the fish just begins to flake. Turn off heat.