John Dory in Lettuce and Fennel Broth

(serves 4)

  • I invented this dish in a moment when I was trying to eat well, and light.
  • 3 quarts cold water
  • 2 tablespoon chopped lemongrass (optional)
  • 1 whole fennel bulb, sliced, fronds
  • 4 John Dory fillets (sole works fine here too) reserved
  • 2 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 18 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 1 head baby Bibb or Boston lettuce
  • 3 scallions, split lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste crushed
  • 2 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger (optional)
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme

In a pot with the cold water, place the vegetables, garlic, thyme, ginger and lemongrass. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add the John Dory fillets and the tomato quarters. Cover the pot and cook the fish for 4-5 minutes. Add the basil, parsley, lettuce, salt and red pepper flakes, and cook for 2 minutes more, covered.

Serve in wide bowls, starting with the fish. Arrange the vegetables on top, and add about a cup of broth. Garnish each bowl with some of the reserved fennel leaves.


After helped me design the Arometo, my extensive herb garden, Signor Lippi, the director of the Botanic Gardens of Lucca, gave me my first lemongrass plant. At the time, I didnt know what to do with it, so I just chewed the stalks as they were, papery covering and all. When Lippi asked me how Id liked his gift, I was embarrassed and said Id used it in a dish that sold out immediately and never eve got to taste it. Then he brought me some more, and I started to experiment for real. I had to act fast, though, Mama thought it was like marijuana and would confiscate it from the kitchen. When I insisted the lemongrass was for cooking, she relented- and started to use it as rabbit feed. Lemongrasss sour lemon flavor nicely enhances clear broths.