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Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

JANUARY IS THE CRUELLEST MONTH

January Comfort Food

According to TS Eliot, “April is the cruelest month”: I disagree. January is the pits; if you cleave to the mass media depiction, then we are all on some form of diet or restrictive eating pattern, everyone is broke, leaving their spouses/partners, embarking on unrealistic New Year’s Resolutions and the weather is awful. In January, more than ever, we need comfort food. That doesn’t mean an excuse to scoff down high calorie, low value processed rubbish, rather we take the time to create dishes that will both comfort and nourish. I appreciate we can’t do this every evening but this dish is worth the effort at weekends; I’m talking about Fish Pie.

How can anything that includes a large proportion of mashed potato not be comfort food? The joy of this dish is that the recipe is simply a basic suggestion which you can bespoke to your own tastes, and indeed mine are rarely completely identical on any two occasions. When I developed this basic recipe, I was trying to emulate the flavours of tartare sauce, hence the capers, tarragon  and gherkins. Other herbs, spices, cheese and anchovies are all regular guests in this pie, even once, misguidedly tomato puree. Horrible – what was I thinking?

The mash can also be customised with mustard, cheese, herbs, sweet potato and/or celeriac. If you aren’t a mash lover, then simply top the lot with flaky pastry. Yes, of course I’m talking about ready made – just make sure it’s one with butter and glaze it with a beaten egg for a glossy finish.

If I can be serious here for a minute: please try to buy fish that is approved by the Marine Conservation Society. Their website is a mine of information: https://www.mcsuk.org  We should all eat more fish and for example, I love fresh salmon but it presents an enormous dilemma: so much farmed salmon is produced in disgusting conditions that cause massive loch pollution; wild salmon is expensive and Alaskan and Norwegian salmon have food miles attached! Organic farmed salmon does exist but it can still present problems.

What’s a cook to do? To be honest, I am not sure I know the answer but in the meantime, read the wise words of http://www.joannablythmanwriting.com,  make friends with your fishmonger (yes, the one in the supermarket counts!) and act on the recommendations of MCS. 

One last note on the recipe; if you are making mash topping, do make it well in advance so that it cools significantly. Putting hot mash on top of the hot fish mix results in the potato sinking into the fish mixture so the whole thing looking like some kind of deranged smoothie. 

 

Comforting Fish Pie

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • MASH TOPPING
  • 750g potatoes, peeled and cut into 4/5 cm chunks (try for King Edward, Maris Piper or Alouette)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • FISH MIXTURE
  • 500ml of full fat milk (for a luxurious touch, try Jersey milk)
  • 450g mixed fish eg salmon, cod, smoked haddock (the inclusion of a smoked fish is, I think, essential) cut into roughly 4 - 5 cm pieces
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 leeks, washed and sliced into 1cm rings
  • 50g butter plus a little more for finishing
  • 1 tbsp light olive oil
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 100g raw prawns
  • 1 tbsp small capers, rinsed well
  • 4 small cornichons, rinsed and chopped same size as the capers
  • 1 tsp chopped tarragon or 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp French Mustard (see recipe)
  • Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

Instructions

1

For the Mash:

2

Boil potatoes until easily pierced with a skewer

3

Drain them and dry well (sloppy mash is the enemy of a good fish pie)

4

Mash well to eradicate lumps, add the butter and season well

5

You can add mustard or grated cheese at this point, too

6

Leave to cool

7

You will see that I don’t add any liquid, either in the form of milk, cream or creme frâiche but be it on your own head if you do

8

For the fish filling:

9

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan

10

Peel the onion and cut in half around its middle

11

Make four incisions and stick in the bay leaf and cloves

12

Add to the milk, then in a large pan and once there are bubbles all around the edge, add the fish (not the prawns)

13

Bring to the boil, reduce the heat immediately and simmer for 4 - 5 minutes

14

Remove the fish and the onion from the pan and discard the onion

15

Set the fish aside and reserve the milk

16

Chop the other half of the onion

17

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan and then soften the leek and onion over a low heat

18

(This is the point at which many recipes tell you this takes 2 minutes. Rubbish; leeks take a good 15 minutes on a low heat to become silky and soft; we do not want frizzled leeks here)

19

Add the flour to the leek mixture and cook it well, stirring all the while

20

Gradually add the milk (I use a ladle here) and stir each addition well

21

Add all the milk and heat until thickened

22

Taste and season and at this point add the capers, cornichons and tarragon

23

(This sauce needs to be well seasoned to avoid any hint of blandness so taste, taste, taste and don’t be afraid to add a teaspoon of French mustard to kick it up a notch)

24

Add the fish and the raw prawns then stir in the lemon zest

25

Make sure everything is evenly distributed but do it gently to avoid further breaking up the fish

26

Spoon into an ovenproof dish (I use a 26cm oval pie dish)

27

Top with the cool/cold mash and to be honest, at this point I dispense with spoons and use my (clean) hands. Much easier.

28

Rough up the surface with a fork and dot with small amount of butter

29

Place on a baking tray and place in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes until piping hot and browned

30

To check it is piping hot, pierce with a sharp knife blade, leave for a few seconds then hold it against your bottom lip. If you can’t hold it there, it’s done and if you can, leave another 5 minutes or so.

31

Leave to stand for 5 minutes before serving with heaps of fresh vegetables and a glass of something cold and white.

 

Courses/ Lunches & Light Suppers/ Seasons/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses/ Winter

A WINTER CARB FEST

Winter carb fest - gattò di patate

There is something about the cold winter months that makes carbohydrates much more attractive during that time. I do try to limit them as there is no doubt that for me, too many induce lethargy. Add to that limited sunlight, cold wet weather and a warm snuggly bed and I have a recipe for staying too long in bed, weight gain and low mood. It makes perfect sense then for me to conserve my carbs for those I really love, usually rice or good pasta. Yes, I love bread but trial and error has proven to me that too much really does not agree with me; one or two slices per day of good sourdough is my limit.

With an Irish surname like mine, you’d think I’d love a potato but actually I can take them or leave them. Cue grandfather spinning in grave…

Recently however, I have been using potato a whole lot more and it’s all the fault of Angela Clutton and Borough Market Cook Book Club. Our January event was an homage to the late, great Antonio Carluccio and I was a bit slow off the mark bidding to make his Caponata, which I love. I therefore chose something that is also a family recipe, which in itself is a bit of a mystery and I’ll come to that later.

Having had Caponata nabbed from under my nose (you know who you are), I went for Gattò di Patate, which has nothing to do with cats (spot the accent!) and everything to do with a wonderful combination of potatoes, cheese, egg and cured meat. I ask, you in this weather, could you imagine anything more wonderful and tempting?

Gattò in this context is a corruption of gâteau and dates back to when Naples was a Napoleonic possession (although because this is Italy, there are other opinions!) and that is where the family mystery comes in. As you know, we are an Anglo Italian household and everyone on the Italian side comes from either Carrara in Tuscany, or Borgo val di Taro in Emilia Romagna, so how a Neapolitan recipe comes to be in the family repertoire is a complete mystery. Perhaps someone visited Naples and fell for this complete carb fest and brought the recipe back north. In truth I’ve avoided making it until now, not being much of a potato lover, despite plaintive hints from Edoardo from time to time.

Now, however, its time had come. Comparing the Carluccio recipe with the family one revealed some interesting differences (again, perfectly normal in Italy) but I played by the rules for the Cook Book Club and made the recipe in the Carluccio Collection. That version mixes the meat and cheese components throughout the dish and it was tasty but now having made the family version, to me that is the more delectable version, and is the one I’ve described below.

You’ll see that I have listed specific cured meat here but in truth, the meat component can be leftovers or good bacon, anything that will cut into nice little matchsticks. If you are buying something specifically for this dish, don’t buy anything that will disintegrate under the cooking conditions, for example thinly sliced Mortadella will disintegrate (although if you buy a chunk of it and cube it, that will be OK).

The potatoes are important – they must be a floury variety so for example Alouette, Maris Piper, Desirée or even good old King Edward. The cheese (apart from the Parmesan) must be a type that melts easily such as Taleggio, Provolone, Scamorza, Mozzarella or Fontal. In the picture I have used Montasio which is a DOP cow’s milk cheese from Friuli and the Veneto but I accept this can be tricky to get hold of in the UK.

This is quite a rustic carb fest and although it is frequently served as an accompaniment with a roast meat or fish, we have enjoyed it most as a supper dish in its own right with a clean, fresh green salad (my favourite here is Little Gem, rocket and fennel in a sharp lemony dressing).

Do try it now, before spring arrives and this will be too carby – it has converted me to the humble spud!

GATTÒ DI PATATE

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 - 6 Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1kg floury potatoes, scrubbed but left whole
  • 50g unsalted butter plus extra for greasing
  • 6 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 75g grated Parmesan, Gran Padano or Pecorino Sardo
  • 150g cured meat eg salami, speck, prosciutto or mortadella (buy in a piece and cut into slim pieces, like slightly thicker matchsticks; if you use speck, I like to lightly fry it first)
  • 150g cheese that melts well, eg Taleggio, Provolone, Scamoza, Mozzarella, Fontal, Montasio, sliced
  • olive oil or butter to finish
  • sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • a 25cm springform cake tin or ovenproof dish, well buttered and coated with about 4tbsp of the breadcrumbs

Instructions

1

Pre heat the oven to 180C fanBoil the potatoes in their skins until soft when pierced with a skewer

2

Drain and allow to cool and dry off

3

Peel and then mash or use a ricer to produce a dry potato powder (I have seen a recipe that says sieve it but honestly, life is too short)

4

Add 50g butter and mix in well to achieve a smooth potato mash

5

Add the meat, parsley, 50g of the Parmesan or other grated cheese and then the eggs

6

Mix well until smooth and spread half on the base of the tin or dish

7

Layer the sliced cheese over the potato, cutting up the cheese to ensure every bit of the potato is covered with cheese

8

Cover with the other half of the potato mix and press down quite firmly

9

Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese and breadcrumbs and either drizzle with a little olive oil or dot with butter

10

Place in the centre of the oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown; if it hasn’t taken colour by 25 minutes, ramp it up 10 degrees for the last five minutes

11

Serve warm or cold with a refreshing green salad with a lemony dressing

Notes

If you’ve used a springform tin, it looks good turned out onto a pretty plate to serve I have also then used a small biscuit cutter to create bite sized pieces to use as stuzzichini, perhaps topped with a parsley leaf