After tasting this elegant dinner party dish in a 1958 class taught by famed New York cooking instructor Dione Lucas, Paula [Wolfert] decided to drop out of college and become a restaurant chef. She had not made the dish again for decades when we cooked it together in 2015. She swore she had no memory of it, yet when we assembled the fillets, her hands knew what to do. The recipe is unusual, as the fish fillets are first poached in white wine in the oven and then draped in a thick, creamy sauce and broiled. As I prepared the sauce with her, I feared it would taste heavy, even gluey. But she reassured me. Presto! It emerged from the broiler tasting surprisingly silky and redolently spiced. You’ll want to serve this dish with crusty bread to savor each bit of the sauce.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a shallow broiler-safe baking dish 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm) in diameter. Line the bottom with parchment paper and lightly butter the parchment.
Using the large holes of a box grater, and with the cut side against the grater, grate the tomato halves and discard the skins. Set aside.
Arrange the sole fillets on a work surface and pat dry. Sprinkle each fillet with a pinch or two of salt and cayenne pepper, then top each fillet with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the butter, 1 peppercorn, and 1 bay leaf half. Starting from a narrow end, roll up each fillet into a snug cylinder and place, seam side down, in the prepared baking dish. Top each fillet with 1 onion strand. Pour the white wine into the dish.
Poach the fish in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and spoon out all but about 1 tablespoon of the wine from the dish. Set the fish aside in the dish and keep warm. Position an oven rack 7 inches (17.5 cm) from the heating element and preheat the broiler.
In a small saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons (45 g) of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk for 30 seconds to blend thoroughly without coloring. Add the stock, cream, and grated tomato and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Turn down the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley, then whisk in the remaining 2 teaspoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, whisking after each addition until melted. Season with salt and black pepper and remove from the heat.
Spoon the sauce over the fish fillets and sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Broil until the sauce begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately directly from the baking dish or transfer the fillets to individual plates with a generous serving of sauce.
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Reprinted with permission from Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life by Emily Kaiser Thelin, copyright 2017 ©. Published by M & P. (unforgettablepaula.com) Photography by Eric Wolfinger.