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Italian Home Cooking
by Julia Della Croce
The Mediterranean combination of fish and fennel is a marriage made in heaven, especially in this crunchy-crusted tilapia creation I originally invented for schoolchildren. Once introduced to their repertoire, it became one of the all-time favorites on the lunch menu—for children and adults alike, even among the less sophisticated eaters who thought they didn't like fish.
Serves 4


    • 1¼ cups bread crumbs or panko
    • 1 teaspoon freshly, finely ground fennel seeds
    • 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
    • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 4 fresh tilapia fillets (about 2 pounds), each cut down the middle and sliced into a total of 6 pieces
    • 4 tablespoons dijon mustard


1. Preheat an oven to 200°F. Spread the bread crumbs out on a sheet pan and slide them onto the middle rack of the oven. Bake until faintly colored but not at all brown, about 7 minutes. Remove and cool.

2. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

3. In a shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the herbs and the olive oil. Using a pastry brush, paint the fish pieces with a thin film of the mustard. Then coat each piece with the bread crumb mixture and transfer to the baking sheet, leaving plenty of room between each piece for heat to circulate around it.

4. Bake until cooked through but still moist and tender, about 10 minutes. (Note: Cooking time is accurate for small, cut-up fillet pieces. For larger pieces, cook longer.) Arrange 6 pieces of the fillets on each individual plate and serve at once.

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