Buttery black cod at Poggio.
THERE ARE SOME people whose life path truly feels like destiny. Among these people is Poggio executive chef Benjamin Balesteri. Born in Monterey and raised in the Salinas Valley — affectionately known as “the Salad Bowl of the World” — Balesteri was primed for a culinary life. With Sicilian fishermen on his father’s side, who taught him how to fish in the Monterey Bay, and his mother’s Swiss farming family, who instilled in him an appreciation of growing seasonal vegetables, it’s no surprise Balesteri began working in restaurants at an early age. His formative experience of preparing freshly caught fish and seafood to bring out their unique tastes combined with being knowledgeable about seasonally butchered meats made him a perfect fit for Poggio. “We like to use local black cod at Poggio because it is from right here in our backyard on the Marin coast and it’s sustainable,” he says. Black cod, which also goes by the names butterfish and sablefish, is a rich white-flesh fish with a moist, succulent texture; its habitat stretches from the Bering Sea to California. “It is a buttery, fatty fish so it works beautifully with lentils,” Balesteri says. poggiotrattoria.com
4 (6-ounce) pieces local black cod, scaled skin on
¾ cup olive oil
½ cup diced guanciale (pork jowl or cheek)
2 cups beluga lentils, rinsed
¼ cup diced yellow onion
¼ cup diced carrots
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup diced leek
¼ cup diced fennel
6 sprigs of thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
1 cup red wine
3 cups chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
6 baby artichokes peeled and quartered
1 Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the guanciale and cook until golden brown. Remove the guanciale with a slotted spoon and set aside for the garnish.
2 Add the lentils, onion, carrots, celery, leek, fennel, thyme, and bay leaves to the saucepan and cook until the vegetables are translucent, stirring frequently. Add the red wine and reduce until nearly evaporated. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the lentils are tender and have absorbed the liquid, 30 to 35 minutes, checking occasionally. Remove the lentils from the heat and discard the thyme stems and bay leaves. Season with salt, pepper and a splash of sherry vinegar to taste.
3 To cook the artichokes, place on a rack over simmering water in a pot. Cover the pot and steam the artichokes until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the artichokes and plunge into ice water to cool, then drain and set aside.
4 Heat the remaining ½ cup olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Place the black cod, skin side down, in the oil and season with salt. Cook until the skin is crispy golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook 1 minute more or to desired doneness. Remove the fish from the pan and discard all but 1 tablespoon oil. Add the artichokes and guanciale to the pan and cook until lightly caramelized.
5 Divide the lentils between 4 serving plates. Arrange a piece of cod over the lentils, then scatter the artichokes and guanciale around the cod. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.