Conducting with Sole
Once, in an Iron Chef kind of competition I was judging in the early 1980s, in the beautiful ballroom at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware, Stephen Gunzenhauser, then music director of the Delaware Symphony—now the maestro of the summer Endless Mountain Music Festival in the Twin Tiers and of the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra—and his wife Shelly prepared “Vivaldi.”
A scrumptious dish they called “Fillet of Sole Vivaldi,” that is, not any of the composer’s musical pieces.
It was a “Gourmet Galas” competition that Corning Inc. sponsored as a major benefit in cities around the country for the March of Dimes. Corning’s charity efforts had moved from staging lavish fashion shows (imagine Salvador Dali doing the March of Dimes sets way back when, which he did!) to asking distinguished members of the community (who had reputations as good cooks) to whip up their favorite dish for the black-tie-clad partygoers— and about five food-expert judges.
I conducted some 140 of these philanthropic cooking contests for Corning from coast to coast, but this one in Wilmington was especially memorable. Who knew thirty years later I’d come to personally know Stephen and Shelly and enjoy the maestro’s brilliant concerts in my home territory every summer for the Endless Mountain Music Festival?
Back then, I was conducting the affair, and he was nervously waiting to be judged.
In the heat of the contest, I sampled his Fillet of Sole Vivaldi with the other judges—the likes of Craig Claiborne (then the food editor of the New York Times), Chicago-based cookbook author William Rice, and Town and Country magazine food writer Jim Villas.
All of us loved Fillet of Sole Vivaldi! I presented Stephen the award. He hasn’t forgotten that moment—or the recipe, which I’ve included below.
I talked with Shelly and Stephen about how they got started cooking and how they cook together.
In Stephen’s case, he remembers beginning to cook when he was about thirteen in his family’s Queens, New York, kitchen. He helped out, paying close attention to what his mother was cooking. Beef roulade was a family favorite. He also managed to take home economics classes while in junior high school and then went on to New York City’s prestigious High School of Music and Art and all the while learning to master the clarinet as well as the knobs on the stove.
Shelly (full name Rochelle) also gravitated to the kitchen as a young woman growing up in New Jersey. She is a registered nurse who nurtured a love for the New York Philharmonic and saw every Bernstein-conducted concert she could. She and Stephen met in December of 1969 and had so much in common—including music—that they were married by June. And today they make a dynamic cooking duo.
The sole recipe they collaborated on back in the 80s became their “go to” dish when time for cooking was limited. You’ll see why when you read—and I hope cook—this dish. If you’re a music buff you’ll also appreciate that the sole is poached in a delicious tomato sauce, as Vivaldi, who was born in Venice in 1678, had red hair.
Meanwhile, don’t forget to get a taste of Gunzenhauser’s better-known work, including music by Copland, Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak, Gershwin, and a performance by India’s superstar violinist L. Subramaniam. Go to the inside front cover of this issue of Mountain Home to check out the Endless Mountain Music Festival’s astonishing schedule this summer of fifteen concerts in sixteen days, from July 26 to August 10 in venues from Wellsboro to Corning.
To hear the talented orchestral players from around the world under the baton of the Grammy-nominated Gunzenhauser, the fifth most-recorded American conductor, is truly special, and also a bargain!
The Gunzenhausers’ Fillet of Sole Vivaldi
Now, if the Gunzenhausers could cook this over a hot plate on a table on the balcony outside the Hotel DuPont ballroom, this is not only doable for any cook but it is quick and savory.
- 1 c. thinly sliced un-blanched almonds
- 1⁄4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 c. chopped onion
- 1⁄2 tsp. chopped garlic
- 2 (8 oz.) cans tomato sauce
- 1⁄2 c. water, preferably bottled
- 1⁄2 c. dry white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-1⁄2 tsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
- 3⁄4 tsp. salt
- 1⁄2 tsp. sugar
- 1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 6 fillets of sole
- 1/3 c. milk
- Hot fluffy cooked rice
- Dash of curry powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut parchment paper to fit a baking sheet and spread the nuts in a single layer. Place in the preheated oven, toast, stirring often, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and shake onto a dry surface and let cool.
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on medium and add the onion. Sauté until softened and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for another minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the tomato sauce, water, wine, bay leaves, basil, sugar, and pepper. Cover and simmer on low about 45 minutes. Uncover and remove the pan from the heat.
Add the toasted nuts to a blender or food processor and finely chop using the on/off pulse. Do not over process; stop the machine when the nuts are just finely chopped.
Soak the sole fillets in the milk for about 15 minutes and then drain them and pat dry. With your fingers spread the almond mixture on one side of each fillet. Add remaining chopped nuts to the tomato-based sauce.
Roll the fillets with the almond side in, and arrange the rolls seam side down in the sauce in the skillet, spooning a little of it over the fish rolls.
Cover and return the pan to the heat. Simmer 15 minutes until the fish is snowy white and flakes easily.
Meanwhile prepare the rice. When the rice is cooked toss it with the curry powder.
Serve the roulades in the center of the rice and spoon the sauce over the fish.
This serves 6.
I suppose you can use a baton to fluff the rice. I must ask the Gunzenhausers if they’ve tried that.