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Middle Eastern Baked Fish with Nut and Sesame Crust

2 garlic cloves -- chopped
1/2 cup chopped almonds or hazelnuts -- (filberts), toasted
6 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt -- plus salt to taste
4 firm white fish fillets - -- (5 to 6 oz ea) (such as snapper -- cod, sea bass, flounder)
1 tablespoon olive oil - -- (to 2 tbs)
freshly-ground black pepper -- to taste
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf -- (Italian) parsley

Put the garlic and nuts in a blender or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process to mince the nuts finely. Add the tahini and lemon juice and puree. Add just enough cold water to form a spreadable paste and process until smooth. Season with the 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Preheat an oven to 450F Bring the fish to room temperature. Use the olive oil to oil a baking dish large enough to hold the fish fillets in a single layer. Place the fish in the dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread the tahini mixture over the fish fillets. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the sesame seeds in a small, dry frying pan and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the fish with the parsley and toasted sesame seeds and serve at once.

Comments: While this sesame sauce is usually spread on cooked fish and served at room temperature, it is even better spread on the fish before baking, because it keeps it moist. The sauce may be made several hours ahead of time but will thicken considerably; thin with water to restore its spreadability. Tahini, a thick sesame seed paste, can be found in Middle Eastern food shops and in well-stocked food markets. Serve this dish with roast potatoes or cracked-wheat pilaf and spinach or zucchini. Garnish with lemon wedges and olives, if you like.

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