I was a stellar teen.

My mother will tell you she never had to worry about me. I was always respectful. Always responsible. Always made the proper decisions.

Then, barely a slip of an adult, my ex left me for an 18-year-old cult member (who in a cosmic reversal of fortune informed him a few weeks later that she preferred women to men). I was so pissed off I decided to bulldoze the boundaries I’d grown up with and see how the other half lived.

My particular form of rebellion-come-lately was Tanqueray and tonic, which I really liked but which didn’t like me. (At least, not in the quantities I was drinking it …) I stumbled into work one morning, and my boss — no stranger to the three-Chablis lunch herself — burst out laughing.

“You need to eat white food!” she sputtered when she finally caught her breath.

Those days of reckless rebellion are thankfully gone. (And in reality, none of this is news to my mother, who grew a bit gray watching her daughter experiment with behavior best left to children still under a parent’s watchful eye.) But my view of white food as an elixir remains.

In her book The Italian Country Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper writes about the love Italians have for “eating white.” A meal of pale foods is good for the liver, they claim. Good for the soul.

They definitely sop up the juice. I ate mounds of mashed potatoes and gallons of Spanish white bean soup the days after my post-teenage indulgences. Today, though, I turn to “white food” for its simplicity of preparation and purity of flavor.

I made this dish a few nights ago, after we’d spent hours in the hot and humid watching our young one play baseball. We were tired, sticky and cranky. Could white food cool our spirits as we cooled our heels?

Blissfully … yes. Based on Rossetto Kasper’s Pesce in Bianco, or classic poached fish, dinner took all of 15 minutes from idea to plate and table. The most taxing part was whirring up an herb sauce I decided to swirl into the pasta and drizzle on the fish.

You can make Pesce in Bianco with any herbal combination and any white-fleshed fish you desire. The one caveat: Make sure you don’t overcook the fish. While Kasper recommends poaching 8-10 minutes per inch, our Atlantic cod fillets were done after only 5 minutes. Any longer, and our white food would have turned to rubber.

Not the tonic you want for what ails you.

Poached Cod On Noodles (adapted from The Italian Country Table)

fish dish1

Use any flavorings you desire for your poaching liquid. Just be sure to boil them for at least 5 minutes to extract as much flavor as possible.

  • fish simmering herbs 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 dried chile do Arbol, broken in half
  • A handful of basil leaves & stems
  • 2-3 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 2-3 fresh oregano or cilantro sprigs
  • 6-8 stems of fresh thyme
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 white fish fillets (I love Atlantic cod for its delicate taste and sustainability)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • 6 ounces soba noodles (or the noodles of your choice), cooked according to package directions

fish potPlace the garlic and the next 7 ingredients in a large skillet or saute pan. Fill the pan with water about 3 inches deep.

Cover and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Remove the cover and let the water boil for 5 minutes.

fish simmering

Carefully slide the fish into the water, adjusting the heat until your water merely simmers. Cook the fish for 5 to 8 minutes, checking it frequently. When it’s opaque, it’s done. Remove the fish to a plate and season with salt and pepper.

As the fish cooks, combine the garlic and chopped herbs in a food fish dish2processor. Add the lemon juice and process until a paste forms. With the processor running, add enough olive oil for the mixture to take on a sauce-like consistency.

Remove a couple of tablespoons of your herb sauce. Toss the rest with the cooked soba noodles. Place the noodles on a plate, top with a piece of fish, and drizzle the fish with the remaining herb sauce.