the appetizer:

The Flexitarian Table by Peter Berley offers recipes that can please both vegetarians and carnivores, like Roasted Squash Potage with Spiced Crème Fraîche, Sautéed Escarole with Red Pepper Garlic, and Baked Fish/Ricotta Dumplings over French Lentils.



Baked Fish/Ricotta Dumplings
over French Lentils

Baked Fish
Baked Fish over French Lentils


Serves 6:
3 Servings Fish
3 Servings Dumplings

This casserole is based on an all-purpose lentil recipe—when cooked until just tender, the lentils can be drained and dressed for a warm salad; when made with more broth, the recipe becomes a satisfying soup. Here the lentils form a saucy setting in which to nestle portions of fish or ricotta dumplings.

Seasoned with nutmeg and Parmesan and made toothsome with bread crumbs, the dumplings are hearty and flavorful. They're a great vehicle for good ricotta cheese—if you can go beyond the supermarket for this recipe, go to an Italian store that makes creamy ricotta fresh every day, or look for ricotta produced from grass-fed cows.

Halibut is my first choice here, but any firm white fish, such as fluke, flounder, hake, striped bass, cod, or scrod, will be great or a small whole fish. Ask your fishmonger for whatever's best. If using thin fillets such as sole, season them with salt and pepper, then roll them up, skinned side in, before placing them atop the lentils. Watch the fish carefully, and take the casserole out of the oven the moment the fish is cooked through.

Note: You can, of course, double the recipe for ricotta dumplings or the ingredients for the fish to make just one version of the dish. In that case, use a 3- to 4-quart baking dish for the casserole.

If I'm making this dish with just fish, and everyone eats meat, I sometimes dice 2 strips of bacon and add them to the lentils with the onions.


  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 cups French lentils, soaked for 2 hours
  •      (or overnight in the refrigerator) and drained
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • 1-1/2 pounds firm white fish fillets
  •      or one 2-1/2-to 3-pound whole fish, cleaned
  • Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 thin lemon slices
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving


  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh sourdough bread crumbs
         (from 2-3 slices; see page 263 of the book)
  • 3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup packed freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Chopped red bell pepper and lemon zest for garnish (optional)

For the Lentils: In a large heavy saucepan or small Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Stir in the lentils, thyme, sage, bay leaves, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes. There should be about 1/2 inch of broth remaining above the level of the lentils; if not, add a little water. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Season the lentils with the lemon juice, salt, and 3 or 4 grinds of black pepper, and divide them between two 1-1/2-quart baking dishes.

For the Fish: Season the fish with salt and pepper. Arrange the fish over one dish of lentils and place lemon slices on top of the fish. If using whole fish, slit the fish on one side in 4 pieces and insert the lemon slices into the slits. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Bake until the fish is just cooked through, about 15 minutes for fillets or up to 30 minutes for a whole fish.

For the Dumplings: In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs, ricotta, egg, egg yolk, and Parmesan. Season with 10 gratings (or a healthy pinch) nutmeg, the salt, and 8 grinds black pepper and mix well.

Moisten your hands and gently form the ricotta mixture into 6 dumplings. Arrange the dumplings over the other dish of lentils. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Bake until the dumplings are lightly browned and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Scatter the parsley over the fish and the red pepper and zest, if using, over the dumpling and serve.


Don't Flake Out

The advice to cook fish until it flakes is outdated, useful only if you want to re-create the texture of canned fish at home. Briefer cooking will yield more succulent and flavorful results. The leaner the fish, the faster it can go from done to overdone. To test for doneness, pierce a thick piece of a fillet (or a place near the spine for a whole fish) with a thin-bladed knife and part the flesh slightly. The flesh should just be opaque (for whole fish, it should come freely away from the bones at the spine). If you have one, insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of the fish: it should register 120 degrees for medium-rare, 130 degrees for medium.

  • from:
  • The Flexitarian Table
    Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone in Between
  • by Peter Berley
  • Houghton Mifflin 2007
  • 352 pages, with more than 70 full-color photographs by Quentin Bacon
  • $30.00 hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 0618658653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-618-65865-7
  • Recipe reprinted by permission.

Buy The Flexitarian Table


The Flexitarian Table


This page created September 2007

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