Despite living mere miles away from the Atlantic in New Jersey, fish seems like a luxury to me.
It's a silly mental perspective, given that a good fillet cooks in half the time of a basic chicken breast and is twice as flavorful, but the idea of getting myself over to the market for a fresh piece of cod or salmon sometimes feels like too much of a hassle when the forecast is gray for days and the snowplows have made mountains of slush higher than my head.
In Sicily, where the waters of the Mediterranean are teeming with seafood of every stripe, from squid to swordfish to shrimp to sea urchin, it's a different story. (The abundant sunshine and lack of January snowpocalypse-style blizzards probably helps, too.)
So when the temperatures drop and the prospect of seeing a beach is out of the question, I'll start cooking as if I were on a yacht somewhere off the coast of Italy instead. I might be wearing five layers of hooded sweatshirts and fleecy slippers, but in my mind I'm in a blingy one-piece swimsuit with a crazy flowy patterned caftan, soaking up the rays and the blue waves while chowing down on a big seafood platter.
Typically, you'll see olives and capers paired together in Sicilian cuisine, but their similarly saline flavor seems redundant when I've got an entire pantry at my disposal. Sundried tomatoes have an earthier, umami-rich quality that brings depth and a hint of sweetness to this relish, and when matched with fragrant flat-leaf parsley, the simple chopped topping becomes so pungent and savory that it's hard not to take spoonfuls straight from the bowl.
The cool relish, which brightens a warm fillet of quick-roasted cod in the recipe below, has so many applications beyond seafood: as a topping for bruschetta or crackers, folded into penne for warm or cold pasta salad, as stuffing for chicken breast or pork chops, or with cooked whole grains for a Mediterranean tabbouleh.
Look for U.S.-caught Pacific or Alaskan cod, or hook-and-line-caught Atlantic cod at your neighborhood fish counter to keep on the good side of sustainable fish consumption.
(The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great Seafood Watch app for both Android and iPhone that helps you make those game-time decisions at the store.)