Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Every now and again I write about a recipe that Mr Happy Larder has introduced me to.  The following one he cooked for me the other day and I loved it - we had enjoyed so much lovely seafood in Savannah and had promised ourselves that we would make even better use of the fresh fish available to us here by the Welsh coast.  So, I thought it would be nice if in fact he told you himself about his creation:

A long time ago, I went to an Italian restaurant in west London somewhere and ordered Zuppe di Pesce Siciliana. It was a delicious combination of tomato, fish and scented Mediterranean herbs: a week in a hammock slung between cypress trees overlooking the beach, right there in a bowl. It was filling too – more of a thick stew than a soup. It didn't seem very complicated to make so I resolved to have a go at recreating it at home. 

(I think the story might have been a bit more involved than this, and may have involved trying to impress young ladies, but I can't remember the details and it's Kirsten's blog so I'd keep quiet even if I could. This was at least ten years before we met, you understand.)

There was one thing I wanted to change from the original: in the restaurant, by the time I'd finished shelling the mussels, beheading the prawns and de-suckering the octopus tentacles, the soup was barely lukewarm. Purists (and Sicilians) may well look down their noses at me, but my crustacean dissection skills were never going to wow the girls so I made it shell-less that time and always have since. That way, it's as easy to eat as it is to make, which is to say very easy indeed.

Fish stew

To serve two, you will need:
  • One portion of white fish (whatever is local and fresh)
  • A handful of prawns, shrimps or similar
  • A handful of shellfish – mussels, cockles or similar (we live a few miles from the best cockle beds in Europe, so it's rude not to use fresh cockles)
  • If you like, you can add some squid rings or crab meat or whatever really; it's your party
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • A medium sized onion
  • A can of chopped tomatoes (you can make proper passata if you want; I cheat)
  • Two sprigs of fresh basil – about ten leaves' worth
  • A reasonable shake of dried oregano (or a small pinch of fresh)
  • A bay leaf
  • A couple of generous tablespoons of mascarpone or double cream
  • A proper glass of white wine
  • A bit of water
  • Bread as accompaniment (crusty bread works really well)

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Chop the onion quite finely and sweat it in some decent olive oil in the bottom of a big pot on the hob. Finely chop or crush the garlic and add that in as well. Before the garlic starts to think about burning, throw on the wine and the tomatoes. Add a little salt and pepper and the bay leaf. Quickly boil off the alcohol, add some water and then turn down the heat and put the lid on.
Wrap the white fish in a foil parcel, having rubbed a little olive oil around the inside of the foil first. (If your fish has the skin attached you can leave it on for now.) Put it in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Actually, you can poach the fish if you prefer; when we made this the other day we had a rather large piece of cod, so I poached half in a little wine for just over10 minutes and baked the other half. Either way works. The fish doesn't have to be completely cooked of course, as it's going to finish off in the stew.
Once you've started cooking the white fish you can add the rest of the protein to the pot. Keep the heat down or the little fellas will go rubbery.
When the white fish has had enough time, take it out of the over and turn the heat down to 100C. Unwrap the foil parcel and remove and discard the skin. Keep all that tasty liquid though, and add it to the pot together with the not-quite-cooked flesh. Tear up about half the basil leaves and add those, along with the oregano. Transfer the pot to the oven (with the lid on) and forget about it for around 45 minutes to an hour. You can taste it occasionally and add a bit more salt/pepper/wine if necessary.
Take out the pot when you can't stand the suspense any longer and put it back on the hob on a low heat. Put some suitably Italian or French bread in the oven to warm in its place. Add the rest of the basil to the stew, again torn up. Keep a couple of young leaves back for garnish (especially if you're looking to impress a lady/gentleman). Add the mascarpone or cream and continue to stir on the low heat for a couple of minutes.
Serve in a big bowl with the bread on the side. Wiping the bowl clean with the bread afterwards is allowed.

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