Great Barrington — Sharon Gregory, a talented home cook, uses the food section of the Wednesday New York Times to get fresh ideas. And, unlike people like me, she actually makes the recipes instead of losing them somewhere between the desk and the kitchen. “Cooking was part of our family life,” she says of her parents, both “daring” cooks.
When asked how she came to be such a versatile and enthusiastic chef, she says “I was exposed to well-prepared food as I grew up.” In return, she made sure her son liked to cook by having him cook with her. “He cooked with me every Sunday until he went away to school,” she says. And his prowess in the kitchen made him “the most popular kid in college.”
Gregory grew up in California and then moved to New York City where she worked in finance and technology. Years later, she moved to the Berkshires from New York City “for a much-needed sense of peace and freedom.” She spent 10 years as vice president for corporate development at Jane Iredale Cosmetics and recently retired from that job.
In addition to being an outstanding chef, Gregory is a community activist. She spent three years on Great Barrington’s finance committee and is still involved in civic issues, particularly those concerning education. Currently she is on a task force focusing on the many challenges of education in Berkshire County.
Gregory likes to cook seasonally. “In the fall and winter, I love dishes that cook for a long time. Cassoulets and paella are made for sharing with friends in cold weather. Their aroma fills the house with good smells.” Besides enjoying the preparation of good food, she likes having guests over to share.
“Here in the Berkshires, you can partake of its wonderful sense of community,” she says.
The recipe Gregory is sharing is a Mediterranean fish stew that appeared recently in the New York Times—“Easy Fish Stew with Mediterranean Flavors.” It’s easy and not complicated, but it does take time to do the prep. But, after that, all you need to do is to check on it now and then, stirring it up.
Easy Fish Stew with Mediterranean Flavors
4 large garlic cloves, cut in half, green shoots removed
4 anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 4 minutes, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 quart water
1 pound small new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered or sliced
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 ½ pounds firm white-fleshed fish such as halibut, tilapia, Pacific or black cod, cut in 2-inch pieces
Optional ingredient is a dozen or more clams in their shell, added towards the end.
Place the garlic cloves and ¼ teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle and mash to a paste. Add the anchovy fillets and mash with the garlic. Set aside.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a very large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, celery, and carrot with a ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender – about 5 minutes. Add the pureed garlic and anchovy. Cook, stirring, until the mixture is very fragrant – about one minute – and then add the tomatoes.
Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit and the mixture smells aromatic – about 10–15 minutes. Add the water, potatoes, salt to taste and the bouquet garni. Bring to a simmer. Turn heat to low, cover partially and simmer 30 minutes. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Remove bouquet garni.
Season fish with salt and pepper and stir into the soup. Soup should not be boiling. Simmer 5–10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) or just until fish flakes easily when poked. Add the clams and let them cook until they open. Remove pot from the heat, stir in parsley, taste again, adjust seasonings, and serve.
As the days shorten and our world gets darker and colder in the new few months, this dish — with its warmth and flavor — is just the right dish to ameliorate winter’s gloom.