Roasted Tilapia with Poor Man’s Potatoes

As the weather cools, my thoughts turn toward comfort food. The kind of food you look forward to on a chill evening when you want something filling, warming and satisfying.

I have been making this simple but delicious Spanish peasant food for years and it never feels to bring a satisfied hum to the table. I like to make a lot of it, far more than we will be able to eat at one sitting, because the leftovers make the base for a fantastic frittata or Spanish omelette for lunch the next day.

This is a very oily dish, and that is its secret. The secret to eating it is not to pour the oil on to your plate or dish, when serving use a slotted spoon to ensure excess oil drains away, leaving only a glistening coat of oil. The unctuous, rich, tomatoey oil that remains can be saved and used as a flavour base in another dish, or recycled as an indulgent salad dressing.

I like to use tilapia for this dish, but any firm-fleshed white fish works – cod, pollack, hake or, if you’re feeling indulgent, monkfish.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 tilapia steaks or fillets

200ml olive oil

3 large onions, thinly sliced

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thickly sliced

3 bell peppers, one each red, yellow and green, roughly chopped

4 fresh bay leaves

1kg firm, waxy-fleshed potatoes

a couple of generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes


METHOD

In a casserole, or similar large, heavy, lidded pan, heat 5 tbsp (75ml) of the olive oil over  a medium flame. Add the sliced onions with a little salt and cook gently for around 20 minutes until meltingly soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, the peppers and bay leaves. Cook on the same heat for a further 15 minutes.

Scrub the potatoes but leave the skins on. Cut them lengthways, then cut each half into two or three chunks. Sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt.

Add the remaining oil to the pan, turn the heat up, and when the oil is hot add the potatoes and tomatoes to the pan. Toss so that everything is coated in oil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are soft and yielding but retain their shape.

When you first add the potatoes and tomatoes, there will not be a lot of liquid in the pan. By the time the cooking has ended the dish will be braising in the tomato juices and the oil, infusing everything with flavour.

Turn the oven on, to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

About 15 minutes before the potatoes are ready, lightly season the fish and rub both sides with a little oil.  Place onto a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 mins in the middle of the oven, until the fish is lightly golden and just starting to flake. The exact cooking time will depend on how thick the fish is, so keep a careful eye on it.

You can, if you wish, serve alongside a big bowl of rocket leaves but, really, this needs nothing else other than lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Tomato and Anchovy Risotto

This recipe was devised by Luke Holder, co-head chef (with Angela Hartnett) at a 5 star hotel in Hampshire. You would therefore expect it to be stunning, and it is. He calls it an ‘umami tsunami’ thanks to the intensity of the tomato, ramped up by the anchovy drizzle with which it is finished. The quality of the anchovies is key, so buy the best you can find, and afford.

I present it here exactly the way he wrote the recipe. It needs no embellishment.

This is high-end cooking, which is well within the reach of the home cook. Try it, you’ll be impressed with yourself!

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RECIPE serves 4 

For the risotto:

1 very large onion, finely diced
250ml of chicken or light vegetable stock
250g of risotto rice (I use carnaroli)
190ml of white wine (or vermouth)
500ml of passata
125g of butter, cubed
100g of Parmesan, grated
olive oil

For the drizzle:

12 top quality anchovies, chopped
50ml of Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar
50ml of extra virgin olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped


METHOD

To make the risotto, add a glug of oil to a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently until softened but not coloured. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a pan over a low heat.

Add the rice to the onions and stir. Toast until the rice is extremely hot, then deglaze with the wine. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Marinate the chopped anchovy fillets in the vinegar, garlic, olive oil and chopped parsley. Set aside.

Return the risotto to the heat, add 2 ladles of stock and bring to a simmer while stirring continuously, until the stock has been absorbed. Keep cooking like this, adding one ladle of stock at a time, until it is all soaked up.

Pour in all of the passata and continue cooking, adding a little more water if necessary, until it has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through. Beat in the cubed butter and grated Parmesan and remove from the heat – it should be nice and glossy. Cover with a lid and allow to settle for around for a few minutes. You will notice that no salt has been added; with the Parmesan and anchovies none is required.

Serve the risotto and pour the marinated anchovies all over the top – this will have a large amount of oil over the top but it is key to the finishing off the dish, so do not skimp!

Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Harissa

Often, what you pair a dish with is every bit as important as the main element itself. You wouldn’t, for example, serve a steak and kidney pie with a bowl of steamed Basmati rice. Because we eat a lot of Middle-Eastern dishes, we get through a lot of couscous, but I have to be careful not to put the couscous on the table first, because my family love it so much they will just eat it all by itself.

If you are not familiar with it, couscous are small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat semolina that is traditionally served with a stew spooned on top. You can also use it as the basis for a salad: just add some salad leaves, perhaps some chick peas and always, always (in my house), a little harissa on the side to add spice and heat. You can use ready-made preserved lemon and harissa, but I always use home-made – the links are in the recipe below – and the results are incredible.

This has to be the easiest recipe I will ever put on this blog, in terms of both simplicity and speed. I make no apologies for that, great tasting food doesn’t have to be difficult.

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RECIPE 

75g of dry couscous per person

just boiled water, 1.5 times the weight of couscous (so 112g of water per 75g dry serving)

1/4 tsp bouillon powder per person

some preserved lemon peel

harissa, to stir through


METHOD

Weigh out the appropriate amount of dry couscous, depending how many people are eating. Put it into a saucepan for which you have a lid.

Chop up the peel of your preserved lemon, into 5mm dice. How much you use is entirely up to you, I tend to use the peel of half a lemon when feeding four.

Measure out the appropriate amount of bouillon powder (you can get vegan bouillon, if you need it) and stir it through the dry couscous. Add the chopped preserved lemon peel and stir it through thoroughly. Boil the kettle, and immediately after it has boiled add the appropriate weight of water to the pan. Stir thoroughly and vigorously and quickly put a lot on the pan. Set aside for at least ten minutes, the couscous will absorb the water and the flavours will mingle.

When ready to serve, fluff it up with a fork and transfer to a warmed serving dish if you like. We only ever do this if we have company, otherwise we dig in straight from the pan. Serve with whatever Middle-Eastern dish you fancy, with a jar of harissa ever-present alongside it.

Grilled Snapper with Sweet Potato Bubble and Chilli Drizzle

I spotted this in an old Allegra McEvedy cookbook, and immediately sourced some red snapper to try it. It was lovely, but if you have trouble finding snapper it works equally well with the more easily-available salmon, sea bass or mackerel.

The sweet potato bubble and squeak is also handy to have in your back pocket when you’re short of ideas. I have specified making patties here, as does Allegra McEvedy, though you can cut out a little work by cooking the whole lot together in a big frying pan, making sure you get lots of charring to add big flavour and a little more texture.

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RECIPE serves 4 

800g orange-fleshed sweet potato (3 fairly large ones)

6 red chillies, whole

6 garlic cloves (3 peeled and roughly chopped, 3 crushed)

4 spring onions, finely sliced

1/4 of a savoy cabbage, cut into 1cm dice

50g fresh coriander, roughly chopped

2 tbsp plain flour

2 limes (one cut into 8 wedges, to serve)

4 red snapper fillets (or other oily fish fillets), skin on


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4.

Keep the sweet potatoes whole, bake them in the oven for approximately 50 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, wrap the whole chillies and 3 chopped garlic cloves in a tightly sealed envelope of baking foil. Pop the packet in the oven for 20 minutes along with the sweet potatoes.

Allow the chillies and garlic to cool slightly, then open the packet and remove the chilli stalks. Pop the garlic and chilli into a food processor and add half the coriander, the zest and juice of one lime and a little extra-virgin olive oil. Process until it forms a smooth paste, adding a little more oil if necessary to take it to a consistency that will drizzle easily over the fish.

When the baked sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins and roughly mash the flesh with the spring onion, cabbage, the other half of the coriander, the remaining three garlic cloves (crushed) and the flour. Season generously and chill for 30 minutes. This is your bubble and squeak.

Form the bubble and squeak into 8 patties – I use crumpet rings for ease and convenience – and dust with a little flour. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a large oven-proof frying pan until very hot and almost smoking, lay the patties in the pan (gently) and sizzle for a few minutes each side until well coloured. You may need to use two pans. Pop in a 180C oven for ten minutes to heat right through.

Alternatively, skip making the patties and instead cook all the bubble in a large frying pan over a very high heat. Allow the bottom to stick to the pan (lightly) before scraping off and mixing the charred bits back into the mix. No need to put this into the oven, just make sure it is hot all the way through.

To cook the fish: dry the fillets thoroughly using kitchen paper, then lightly oil the skin of the fish. Season both sides of the fillets then cook in a very hot, ridged griddle pan, skin side down, for around 4 minutes until the fish skin comes away from the pan without sticking. The skin will tell you when it is ready. Carefully flip the fillets over and flash for a further minute on the flesh side.

To serve: place the patties, or bubble, on a warmed plate and lay the fish on top. Drizzle with some of the chilli drizzle and serve alongside a simple green or rocket salad, sharpened with lemon or lime juice, with two lime wedges for each plate.

Blackberry and Brown Sugar Fingers

I have absolutely no idea where I found this recipe, it most definitely is not one that I created but I have been making it during the blackberry season for several years now. That is probably the only recommendation that you need, any recipe that you find yourself going back to time and time again must be a good one. I like to use a whole jar of jam in this, it results in a gloriously deep flavour.

I was encouraged to put this recipe on the blog by my friend Bridget, who sampled the latest batch last week and fell in love with them.

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RECIPE makes 24 fingers

For the base:

225g soft butter
75g sifted icing sugar
225g plain flour
50g cornflour
pinch salt
400g blackberry jam / bramble jelly

For the topping:

125g soft butter
125g light muscovado sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
25g self-raising flour
175g ground almonds
200g blackberries
25g flaked almonds
1 tbsp demerara sugar, plus extra for sprinkling


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

Lightly grease a small baking tin (I use one that is 20cm x 30cm) and line with baking parchment.

First make the base: cream the butter and icing sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift over the flour, cornflour and salt and stir into the butter mixture to make a soft, shortbread-like dough.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface almost to the size of the tin, lower into the tin and press out a little to the edges. Prick here and there with a fork and bake for 15-20 minutes until a pale biscuit colour. Remove and leave to go cold, then carefully spread with the jam to within 1cm of the edges.

Now make the topping: cream the butter and muscovado sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon zest. Gradually beat in the beaten eggs, then fold in the flour and ground almonds. Dollop small spoonfuls of mixture over the jam and carefully spread it out in an even layer. Scatter over the blackberries, pushing half of them down into the mix.

Sprinkle over the tablespoon of demerara sugar and bake for 10 minutes. Carefully slide out the oven shelf, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake for another 30 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer pushed into the topping comes out clean.

Remove, sprinkle with a little more demerara sugar and leave to cool in the tin before cutting into fingers.