If you cook this dish, something I highly recommend, your brain will file it away as “fish lasagne.” But it’s not. There are no gluten-free pasta ribbons interspersed with layers of fish. Instead, thin fillets of Dover sole (that’s how it’s always cut) are used to form a torta. The sole is dipped in a light batter of 2 eggs and a few tablespoons of milk, cream, or coconut milk, and then sprinkled with a bit of shaved parm, toasted quinoa, and dried onion flakes. Quickly sautéed veggies, with lots of greens, are banded with the fish. We added red pepper flakes and seasoning to enhance the flavor of the mild fish, and topped it with some cherry tomatoes.
The torta bakes best on a sheet pan lined with two pieces of parchment in a 425 degree oven for about 25 minutes (if using two pounds of fish). The open sheet pan and high temperature help the sole and the parm/quinoa/onion mixture crisp up around and edges creating lovely textures to bite into. For serving, we lifted the parchment paper and the torta right off the sheet pan and placed it in a slightly-warmed cast iron pan in the center of the table. No burning hot handle on the cast iron, yet the torta stayed toasty and held together nicely (the parchment can be removed when serving or you can lift the entire torta with a long, wide spatula but it’s a little tricker).
This is a great meal for company because it doesn’t take long to prepare or cook and it’s beautiful to serve. Dover sole is available in most every grocery store, and makes an affordable choice when serving guests (I paid $7.99 a pound at PCC Natural Markets). A delicious modern take on a dish that’s filled with very simple ingredients.
AND, ALMOST CARB FREE!!
The torta has about 2-3 carbs per serving excluding the vegetables, none of which are starchy (mine were mostly green ones). Only ⅓ of a cup of toasted quinoa is used in the entire dish. Two pounds of sole will make about 5-6 servings, and it’s a fabulous leftover if just cooking for one or two people. You can use less fish, but will need to reduce cooking time accordingly. The vegetables may also be switched, although avoid watery ones like spinach. Chose those that will hold up to a light sauté and 25 minute bake in the oven–cooked, but not mushy is the goal.
*note on the vegetables used: in my first trial of this dish I used only kale, onions, and some sweet red pepper but I didn’t like the way the torta rounded at the edges because of lack of support from the greens. The next two times I made it, I added broccoli that I placed at the four corners when building the torta, which made for a flatter top at completion. I also included some chunky cuts of celery.
Directions: I’ve provided more of a narrative for this recipe–it’s actually pretty easy to assemble once you have your three components:
1) fish in milk/egg bath;
2) parm/quinoa/onion (PQO) mixture with red pepper flakes, if desired;
3) vegetables. And salt and pepper.
Cook quinoa on stovetop according to directions–generally two parts water to one part quinoa. I usually cook extra, store it in the refrigerator and sprinkle it into other dishes. It takes about 15 minutes. Cover after it comes to boil and cook on low. When done, remove from heat and set aside to cool leaving the lid off. The quinoa will be toasted for ten minutes in the oven after it cools.
Turn oven to 400 degrees.
Line a sheet pan with two pieces of parchment paper.
Remove the sole from the refrigerator. In a large bowl combine two eggs and 3-4 tablespoons of cream, milk (whole or 2%), or coconut milk (the kind that comes in a can, not coconut water). Give the eggs and milk a mix with a fork until the eggs are uniformly blended in. Set the pieces of fish in the bowl. Count the number of fillets you have as you add them– it will help build a torta with even layers. The milk mixture also reduces the smell of the fish.
Spread out your cooked quinoa on the sheet pan. Even distribution is good. Toast at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes (set a timer so you don’t forget it) checking to see that the quinoa is a little drier. You don’t want it crispy though, because it will have to withstand another 25 minutes in the oven.
Remove the sheet pan from oven to let quinoa cool a few minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees.
Measure out your grated parm and onion flakes to which you will be adding the toasted quinoa. I just put them on a plate so I can pinch bits of them as I assemble the dish. There are no hard and fast rules on the ratio of quinoa to onion to grated parm; my preference is to use about ⅓ of a cup of each, for a total of one cup. I never wind up using more than about ⅔ of the mixture but it is nice to have extra to put around the bottom of the fish when serving in case there is extra moisture released from the vegetables.
Add the cooled quinoa to the parm onion mixture. You can save the parchment and use it for the fish or replace just the top sheet. If you are going to add pepper flakes, or any other seasoning, you can toss those into the parm quinoa onion mixture. I salt and pepper each layer as I go so I can eyeball the seasoning better. Sometimes, I use additional pepper flakes (usually Aleppo) depending on the taste preferences of those eating. Don’t add too much–it’s a delicate dish.
Now for the vegetables–I shoot for about three cups of sautéed vegetables for two pounds of sole (my tortas are 4 fillets wide, with 3-4 layers of vegetables, and 4-5 layers of fish; you start and finish with fish so there needs to be one more layer of fish than vegetables).
Heat your skillet on medium and add several tablespoons of olive oil. Give the vegetables a rough chop. You want them just partially cooked since they will have to go in the oven for almost a half hour. I spend about ten minutes doing this step, starting with the vegetables that take longest to sauté, like broccoli and onions and red peppers. After about 4 minutes I add the celery if I am using it, and the greens. You want the olive oil to just lightly coat the vegetables–the way they would be if you were eating them plain, just maybe not as cooked down. Remove vegetables from the heat and set them next to you for easy assembly, either in the skillet or transfer to a bowl).
Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the parm/quinoa/onion (PQO) mix on the parchment paper in area where the sole will be placed.
Then place four pieces of fish, slightly overlapping on the parchment; if you have used 2% or whole milk instead of cream then the egg mixture will be a little more runny–hold the pieces of sole over the bowl for a second before you set them on the parchment so the paper doesn’t get too soggy. Cream and egg adhere pretty well to the fish. Sprinkle on some more of the PQO mixture, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper and red pepper flakes, if desired.
Add a vegetable layer, trying to keep the vegetables from mounding in middle. If I have a sturdier vegetable like broccoli I place a floret at each corner.
Add another layer of fish, and then a sprinkling of the PQO mix, followed by a pinch of salt and pepper and or other pepper flakes as you did after the first layer. Repeat the process for vegetables. Continue adding layers of fish and vegetables, finishing with a layer of fish.
I sprinkle the top fish layer with a few tablespoons of the PQO mix and a few extra tablespoons of parm.
Place in oven on middle rack. Set a timer for 15 minutes. When adding uncooked halved cherry tomatoes as a topping set those on the torta in the last 10 minutes of bake time or they will burn. If you chose to crisp the tomatoes for the topping (with or without thinly sliced organic lemons–organic because you will eat the peel), warm a skillet on medium and add the sliced tomatoes and lemon with a few teaspoons of olive oil. Cook them down until they are somewhat dried out–about 10 to 15 minutes. I add a pinch of salt at the end. This cooked topping can be added when the dish is finished or in the last 5 minutes of baking.Check your torta for doneness around 20-22 minutes–the fish may need longer. It is the top layer of sole that you are testing. It won’t hurt to cook this dish a little extra since the fish will stay very moist assembled in the torta. The top layer gets somewhat browned with the parm on top.
Once I put the uneaten part of the torta back into a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes while trying to photograph a cut piece (and losing the light) and I think the rewarmed section tasted even better. That day I slid the parchment paper out from under the torta while in the cast iron pan after cutting the first slice.
Note: All the dishes that appear on this site were made as actual meals for my family, my friends, or for me. The food is usually consumed moments after the photo is taken. Often, there is someone hovering with fork in hand. What you see is hot, real food, the way it came out of the pan.