Poor Man’s Potatoes with Roasted Cod Loins

This rich, oily, garlicky Spanish dish is the very definition of peasant food: a few simple ingredients gently introduced to each other over time to create something quite delicious.

You might baulk at the amount of olive oil used, but fear not. The deliciously aromatic oil is decanted before serving, leaving a heady gloss on the vegetables.

I use the decanted oily broth as a flavour base in soups and casseroles, just divide it into convenient portions and freeze until needed. It lifts anything it touches.

Amazingly, we had some leftovers when I made this last night. I intend to process the remains into a pulp to use as an aromatic thickener to the vegetable soup I am making today.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 thick cod loins

225ml olive oil

3 large onions, thinly sliced

6 fat garlic cloves, thickly sliced

3 peppers, 1 each of red, yellow and green (often that’s how they are sold)

4 fresh bay leaves

1kg new potatoes (or firm, waxy potatoes if it is winter)

300g cherry tomatoes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)


METHOD

In a very large, heavy bottomed casserole, heat 75ml of the olive oil over a gentle heat and when hot add the onions with a little salt and cook gently for about 20 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, peppers and bay leaves (lightly crushed, to release their scent) and cook gently for a further 15 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into small chunks and salt them lightly. Pull the vegetables aside and add the remaining oil, when the oil is hot add the potatoes and tomatoes, stir thoroughly and leave to simmer for 45 minutes over a low heat under a lid. By this time the potatoes should be completely soft, but not mushy. The tomatoes will have pulped down and there will be a lot of liquid in which everything is braising.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6. Rub the cod loins lightly with oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Place the fish into a gratin dish and 10-15 minutes before serving roast in the oven. The fish should take around 12 minutes to cook through until the flesh just begins to flake, but keep an eye on it, there are few worse crimes than overcooked fish.

Warm a large serving dish, and using a spider, or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked vegetables to it, leaving as much liquid behind as possible. Serve in bowls with the fish on top.

This dish stands all by itself, it needs no accompaniment other than a glass of sharp, dry white wine.

I like to stir a small bunch of chopped flat-leaf parsley through it just before serving, but this is entirely optional.

Sea Bass in Acqua Pazza

Life has a habit of getting in the way, as I have been reminded these past few weeks. Much of my cooking has been quick and simple, and I haven’t found the time to write about it.

Just because you’re short on time doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well, as this simple, quick and elegant dish illustrates.

Acqua Pazza translates as crazy water, the fresh and zingy poaching liquid which perfectly complements, and enhances, the soft white flesh of sea bass. You can make this with small whole fish (as the recipe below), a larger single fish, or fillets. Only the cooking time will change, just keep an eye on the fish and serve it as soon as the thickest part of the fish begins to flake.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 small whole seabass, gutted, cleaned and scaled

75ml olive oil

2 thick garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

1 red chilli, finely chopped

500g cherry tomatoes, halved

120ml dry vermouth

a small handful of capers, rinsed

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small handful of basil leaves, torn


METHOD

In a very large, high-sided pan (preferably one with a lid, if not you can use foil) heat the olive oil with the garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt over a medium heat and lay the fish in it side by side.

After four minutes, gently turn the fish over and add the tomatoes. Cook for another four minutes then add the vermouth and capers. Cover, simmer for a further four minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

Lay the fish onto warmed plates, add the parsley and basil to the pan, turn the heat up for a couple of minutes to reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency, then spoon over the fish.

Serve with some steamed rice and a simple lemon-dressed rocket salad.

Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

Pasta in Parchment with tuna, tomatoes and potatoes

Quite often, the deciding factor in my cooking a recipe I haven’t tried before is that it is in some way unusual, therefore offering a chance for me to learn something new. I spotted this recipe in Ursula Ferrigno’s ‘Truly, Madly, Pasta’ and the idea of cooking pasta in a paper bag was too intriguing to ignore.

You can’t really go wrong with Italian food, it is largely based on simplicity, using fresh ingredients and flavourful aromatic combinations. Pack all that into a paper bag, so all the flavours and aromas are locked in… well, how could it go wrong? Even if I did manage to somehow get it wrong, I would have a salvageable basis for another meal at the end of it.

My only real concern was the pasta. It is part-cooked before going into the paper, and once in the paper there is no way to test if it is done until you serve it, so I was totally reliant on the recipe-writer getting her timings right.

I needn’t have worried, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the only amendment I made to the original recipe was putting the tuna steaks in raw (Ursula Ferrigno pre-cooks those as well). As it stands now, this is a delicious, versatile, quick and easy midweek pasta recipe that also has the ‘wow!’ factor when you bring it to the table.

You can leave the potatoes out if you wish, they are primarily there to add textural interest, but with them left in this is a hearty dish indeed.

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RECIPE serves 4 

250g tuna steak, chopped into 2cm cubes

150ml dry vermouth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

grated zest of one lemon

2 sprigs of rosemary, broken into pieces

8 new potatoes, peeled (or scrubbed) and cut into small dice

12 ripe plum tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped

handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped, plus more to serve

350g spaghetti

2 tbsp olive oil


METHOD

Place the tuna in a bowl with the vermouth, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and some seasoning. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ Gas 6.

Towards the end of the marinating time, cook the diced potatoes in boiling salted water for approximately six minutes, until tender, and drain. Combine with the tomatoes and parsley.

At the same time, half-cook the spaghetti. Use just over half the time suggested on the packet, the brand I use is al dente in ten minutes, so I cooked it for six. Drain and set aside.

Also at the same as you cook the pasta, in a large frying pan, heat the oil until hot, remove the tuna from the marinade and set aside, and fry the marinade and its aromatic ingredients for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol and reduce slightly. Combine this sauce with the spaghetti, the raw marinated tuna, tomatoes and potato. Toss well.

Prepare four parcels with parchment paper, add one-quarter of the mixture to each and fold up loosely like an envelope. Fold in the edges and then fold over the top carefully to seal completely.

Place in the pre-heated oven for seven minutes. Serve at once, tearing open the bags at the table (while inhaling deeply!) and sprinkling with more chopped parsley.

Catalan Tuna and Potato Stew

This is a fabulously earthy stew that is so much more than the sum of its parts. I always find the best recipes invoke some kind of alchemy between a handful of carefully selected ingredients, and this one is pure magic.

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RECIPE serves 4

4 tbsp olive oil

2 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

100ml dry white vermouth

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

400ml fish stock

700g new or baby potatoes, skin on, scrubbed and sliced into 5mm rounds

700g tuna fillet

1 200g jar of stuffed green olives (stuffing of your choice), rinsed


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large casserole over a medium heat, add the onions with a pinch of salt and sweat them under a lid for around ten minutes, adding the garlic and chilli flakes when you judge that there are around 4 minutes left until the onions are sufficiently softened.

Add the dried spices and stir thoroughly, ensuring that they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan and the other ingredients are carrying the spices. Add the vermouth and let it bubble off for a minute or so, then add the tinned tomatoes and the fish stock, season lightly and add the potatoes.

Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a gentle heat for twenty minutes or so until the potatoes are just soft but retain their integrity.

If you are preparing this dish in advance, this is the perfect place to pause.

If not already portioned, cut the tuna into 6 steaks, around 2.5cm thick. Brush with a little olive oil and season lightly on both sides.

Heat a frying pan over a high heat and sear the tuna for around 30 seconds on each side, just to colour the surface. Pop the seared tuna into the simmering broth and gently cover each steak with the potatoes and broth so they are submerged. Simmer for a few minutes until the tuna is just cooked through, then add the olives, stir, check the seasoning and serve in warmed bowls.

Spiced Monkfish with Crushed Potatoes, Peppers and Olives

Monkfish used to be regarded as a bit of a delicacy, quite hard to find, and quite expensive. Now it seems to be everywhere, even some smaller supermarkets are stocking it. It still costs more than your average cod loin, but the small extra expense is well worth it, because that ‘delicacy’ tag still fits extremely well.

It is a firm, meaty, lean white fish which stands up to, and is enhanced by, bold flavours. It’s perfect in this Gordon Ramsay recipe, though if you don’t manage to get your hands on monkfish then hake or haddock are equally excellent – just cut the cooking time down by at least half.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the crushed potatoes:

750g new or baby potatoes

flaky sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

a squeeze of lemon juice

200g roasted red peppers (from a jar is fine), drained and chopped

100g pitted olives, black or green, or a mixture of both

a small handful of shredded basil leaves

For the fish:

4 monkfish tail fillets, skinned, any grey membrane removed

2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

1 heaped tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tsp fine sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

lemon wedges, to serve


METHOD

Heat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil and carefully add the potatoes. Boil for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, mix the five-spice powder, paprika and salt together in a shallow dish. Roll the monkfish in the mixture, coating evenly.

Heat the olive oil in an oven-proof frying pan until hot; sear the fish fillets for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer the frying pan to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes. Keep your eye on the fish fillets so you don’t overcook them, start checking after 4 minutes and be aware that it may take anything up to 8 minutes to get them so they are just cooked through. When they are ready, carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, transfer the fish to a warm plate, cover with foil and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, when the potatoes are ready, drain them and return them to the pan. Lightly crush them with the back of a fork or a potato masher, then mix in the extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and season to taste. Stir in the chopped peppers, olives and basil, check and adjust the seasoning again.

Cut the monkfish into thick slices, spoon the crushed potatoes onto warmed plates and arrange the monkfish on top. Scatter with the chopped parsley and serve at once alongside wilted spinach or steamed broccoli, and lemon wedges.

Stir-fried King Prawns with Chinese Spinach and Garlic

Browsing in my local supermarket the other day, I spotted a living salad tray that contained Chinese spinach. It’s not something I have ever encountered before, and in truth it’s not actually that different from the ‘regular’ spinach you find on supermarket shelves, though it does release a deliciously earthy liquor when it is wilted down. This makes it an ideal choice for a stir-fry, where all that flavour can be used to enhance the sauce.

If you can’t find Chinese spinach, use ordinary spinach, or substitute it for pak choi.

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RECIPE serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a starter

2 tbsp groundnut oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

4 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced

200g Chinese spinach (or pak choi) roughly chopped

16 large, raw king prawns, tails on

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

2 whole dried red chillies, crumbled

1 spring onion, finely chopped

2 tsp toasted sesame oil


METHOD

Prepare all the ingredients before you begin to cook. Things happen quickly when you stir-fry so you need to be organised.

Put the oil in a cold wok with the garlic, and heat it up over a high heat – this will flavour the oil and protect the garlic from burning while it releases its flavour. When the garlic is golden, add the birds-eye chillies and spinach (or pak choi) and cook for about a minute, keeping things moving all the time.

Now add the prawns, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes, keeping it all moving, until the prawns are just cooked.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes, spring onion and sesame oil, toss together and serve immediately accompanied by steamed Basmati rice or your choice of noodles.

Luxurious Fish Pie

This is deeply, deeply satisfying. It is also ridiculously moreish, so make sure you are wearing your loosest jeans when you sit down to eat.

There are, of course, almost as many fish pie recipes as there are fish in the sea. The very best of them are separated from the rest by the quality of the white sauce, nail that and it doesn’t matter which fish you use. Here it is kept simple, just a few of the freshest ingredients, cooked and seasoned carefully.

I like to use a mixture of fish fillets: smoked haddock, salmon and hake, and a good handful of prawns. The result is a vivid display of colour, and a tango on your taste buds. You could go further and posh it up by adding langoustines, monkfish and scallops.

Now, where are my baggy trousers?

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RECIPE serves 4

250ml fish stock

3 bay leaves

250ml double cream

1kg mixed fish fillets (salmon, smoked haddock, hake, cod etc)

a good handful of peeled raw prawns

50g unsalted butter

2 medium leeks, washed and trimmed, use only the white and light green parts, finely sliced

4 tbsp plain flour

100ml dry vermouth

salt and pepper

2 handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the topping:

1.25kg floury potatoes

100g unsalted butter

100g strong cheddar, grated

flaky sea salt

25g Parmesan, very finely grated

olive oil

freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Put the stock and bay leaves into a large saucepan with the cream, add the fish fillets and over a medium heat bring it to just below the boil, ensuring the fish is submerged. Simmer gently for 6 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave it to sit for a few minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish fillets and place in a large gratin dish (23cm square, or similar), leaving the fish pieces as large as possible. Remove any skin and bones from the fish, and reserve the cooking liquid for later use.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter with a glug of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning) and add the leeks with a good pinch of salt. Stir thoroughly, cover and cook over a gentle heat for around ten minutes until the leeks are soft but not coloured.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and chop them into large chunks, then place into cold water and bring to the boil. Keeping the water at a vigorous simmer, cook the potatoes until they are tender.

Heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.

Sprinkle the flour over the leeks and stir in for a couple of minutes until the flour is invisible and there are no lumps. When the mixture is bubbling and smooth, add the vermouth and keep on stirring for another couple of minutes to make a smooth paste. Now remove the bay leaves from the fish cooking liquid, then add the liquid to the leeks a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently. Bring to a gentle simmer, cook uncovered for 15 minutes, then correct the seasoning.

Drain the potatoes, then mash with 100g of butter, using either a masher or ricer. When smooth, add the cheddar and stir through with a fork until fully incorporated. Season generously.

If you can, don’t add any liquid to the mash. It needs to be fairly stiff when it is spread over the top of the fish mixture.

Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top of the sauce, and gently stir it in, along with the prawns. Now pour the sauce over the top of the fish in the gratin dish.

Carefully, starting from the edges of the dish and working toward the middle, lay the mashed potato over the top of the sauce. Ensure there are lots of peaks and troughs in the mash, so they will catch and brown in the oven. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the mash, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and a good grinding of black pepper.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling through. Allow to stand for around ten minutes, then serve with peas, green beans or a simple green salad.

Pan-Fried Salmon with Roasted Apricots and Couscous

Everybody I know who has ever tried dieting, has failed. Actually, that’s not strictly true; in general they have lost some weight, but then gone back to eating how they used to eat and put the weight back on again. The key to losing weight and keeping it off is, of course, to permanently change the way you eat.

The trouble is, it’s all a bit of a trial isn’t it? All that denial, no treats, and the food is so unappealing…

It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m probably preaching to the converted, but if you can cook, then rustling up delicious healthy meals is very easy. With a little practice and a stock of good recipes you can make food that you would be happy to pay for in a restaurant. This is one of those meals: it’s quick and easy, packed full of interesting and delicious flavours, it’s attractive and it is, of course, extremely healthy.

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RECIPE serves 4

250g couscous

310ml light vegetable stock

2 pinches of saffron

25g unsalted butter

8 apricots, halved and stoned (fresh or dried)

1 tbsp caster sugar

1/4 tsp ground cumin

4 spring onions, finely sliced

3 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped (or flaked almonds)

4 250g salmon fillets, skin on

coriander leaves, roughly chopped, to garnish

lemon or lime wedges, to garnish


METHOD

If you are using dried apricots, soak them overnight to rehydrate them, and keep the liquid that is left.

Dry the salmon fillets thoroughly on kitchen paper, set aside.

Put the couscous into a large bowl. If you have the soaking liquid from rehydrating dried apricots, add the stock to it to make it up to 310ml. add the saffron and a pinch of salt and, in a pan, bring it to the boil and turn the heat off. Add the butter, stir until it is melted, then pour the stock over the couscous, stir well, cover and set aside for ten minutes.

Place the apricots, cut-side up, on a grill tray and sprinkle with the sugar, cumin, salt and pepper. Grill under a high heat until they are bubbling and golden. Chop into smaller pieces, then fluff up the couscous with a fork. Stir the apricots and spring onions through the couscous, check the seasoning and scatter the pistachios over the top.

Season the salmon on both sides with a little salt, then fry in a little oil over a medium high heat for 3 minutes, skin-side down. Flip over and cook for a further minute, the flesh should still be bright pink and just cooked.

Serve alongside the couscous and lemon or lime wedges, garnished with coriander leaves. Apple and celery salad is a fantastic accompaniment to this dish, adding more flavour and texture.

Sea Bass with Mint, Tomatoes and Red Onions

I have a mini herb garden in my kitchen, pots of basil, coriander, lovage, mint and others, all lined up on the window sills. The mint is a problem: it grows like a weed and tends to smother the others, so every now and again I will search for a recipe that uses mint, just so I can prune it without feeling guilty.

This recipe comes from Skye Gyngell’s ‘My Favourite Ingredients’, one of those books that, no matter which random page you open it at, you want to eat what you see. This one, for example, tastes even better than it looks.

As usual, using the very freshest, perfectly ripe ingredients allows it to sing. If you don’t have sea bass, this would work equally well with the freshest mackerel, or meaty tuna steaks. I served it alongside fennel chips, the flavour of the fennel seeds echoing the crushed fennel in the sauce, but I think it would also be delicious with simple steamed rice.

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RECIPE – Serves 2 

2 sea bass fillets, skin on

100ml extra virgin olive oil

3 sweet red onions, peeled and finely sliced

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp dried red chilli

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

a handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, leaves only

a small bunch mint, coarsely chopped, leaves only

4 ripe, sweet, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil, for frying


METHOD

Set the sea bass fillets aside on a covered plate to allow them to come to room temperature.

Place a pan over a low heat, pour in the extra virgin olive oil and, when the oil is warm, add the onions. Cook very gently for about 30 minutes, to bring out the gentle sweetness of the onions. Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a dry frying pan to release their flavour, then grind using a pestle and mortar.

Add the ground fennel seeds to the onions, crumble in the chilli and season with a little salt. Cook for a further 10 minutes, still over a very low heat. Add half the parsley and mint, stir well, then add the tomatoes and sherry vinegar. Turn up the heat a little and cook for 10 minutes. This sauce should taste very clean, so don’t cook the tomatoes for too long.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Season the fish well, especially on the skin side. This will draw out the moisture in the skin, allowing the skin to go crisp and crunchy when cooked and adding both flavour and texture to the finished dish.

Place a non-stick ovenproof frying pan over a high heat. Pour in a little olive oil and when hot, lay the fish skin side down in the pan. Cook for 2–3 minutes until the skin is golden brown. Immediately transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking without turning the fish. This should take no more than a further 2–3 minutes.

To serve, taste the sauce for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add the rest of the parsley and mint. Spoon into warm shallow bowls and lay the fish fillets on top. Serve at once.