For the peperonata and fish:
2 medium tomatoes
5 tbsp good olive oil, plus a splash or two extra
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Sea salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
6 large red peppers (or half red, half yellow), seeds and membranes removed, cut into thin strips
3-4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
A bulging handful of basil
4 small sea bass fillets (or pieces from a larger fillet)
For the saffron aioli:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
A good pinch of saffron, soaked for 10 minutes in 2 tsp boiling water
1 tsp lemon juice
100ml fruity extra virgin olive oil
Start with the peperonata. Cut a cross in the skin at the bottom of the tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Pour over a kettle of boiling water and leave to stand for about 30 seconds until you can easily peel away the skin. Cut in half, scrape out the seeds, then finely chop the flesh. Put to one side.
Heat the 5 tbsp oil in a large saucepan, then add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften. Add the garlic and strips of pepper and stir together with the onion, so everything is coated in the oil. Cover with a lid or a bit of foil and cook over a gentle heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft.
Pour in 3 tbsp vinegar, add the chopped tomato and scatter the sugar over the top. Season well, then simmer until the mixture is thick and sweet. Taste and add more vinegar if needed, adjust the seasoning, then stir in all but a few of the basil leaves and put aside to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, make the aioli. Put the yolks, garlic, mustard and saffron liquid in a bowl and whisk together. Slowly whisk in the oil, drop by drop to start with, then, as it starts to thicken, in a thin, steady stream. Whisk in the lemon juice, add a couple of pinches salt and a pinch of pepper, then put to one side.
Pat the skin of the sea bass fillets dry using kitchen paper and, with a sharp knife, slash the skin diagonally in a couple of places. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over a medium heat and add a splash of oil. Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper and lay into the pan, skin-down. Press flat with a fish slice for the first few seconds to stop them curling, then cook for 3-4 minutes until the skin is crisp. Turn carefully and cook for up to a minute more, depending on thickness, until just cooked through.
Divide the peperonata between 4 plates and lean a sea bass fillet against each mound, skin side-up. Scatter with the remaining basil leaves and add a decorative splash of olive oil. Serve with a blob of aioli alongside.
Lucas Hollweg is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and cook. A former Sunday Times journalist and cookery columnist, he writes for a wide range of food publications. His most recent book is Good Things to Eat.
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