Friday, January 22, 2016

Mediterranean fish bake

When I wrote to my new-mother niece Jenny in Melbourne a while ago, saying I wished there was something I could do to be helpful, she replied saying there was: could I please send her some easy one-dish recipes for dinner.  So I did, and they were exactly what she wanted.
         Recently I stayed with my best-private-cook-I-know friend Rosemary in Auckland, and she gave me another great recipe that I'll be passing on to Jenny. It came originally from Dish magazine, and as she pointed out, it's really more of a method for a good way to use firm-fleshed fish, such as trevally (araara). You can usually get it quite a bit cheaper than, say, terakihi - it was only $19.95 at the wonderful Wellington Seamarket in Cuba Street, and 500g served three of us the first night and two the second - the gently reheated leftovers were remarkably good.
          This recipe is my version, loosely based on the Dish one.  It's all rather approximate and very flexible. The key ingredients are the fish, potatoes, peppers and olives, but otherwise you can use what you have, such as sliced courgettes, quartered tomatoes, crushed tinned tomatoes instead of miso stock, or capers instead of artichoke hearts.

Mediterranean fish bake

500g trevally, cut into 2 cm cubes
Extra virgin olive oil
Enough thinly sliced roasting potatoes to form a double layer in the bottom of a medium roasting tin

(Agria are good but nice little oval Annabelle, pictured, are even better, because they cut neatly into small round slices. I peeled mine, but you could leave on the smooth scrubbed skins of fresh Annabelle potatoes if you prefer.)

A selection of Mediterranean vegetables, sliced fairly thin, to strew over the top
(I used a large onion, a red pepper, and a small aubergine - I sprinkled the aubergine with salt and left it while I did the rest, then rinsed it off.)
Half a tin of artichoke hearts, cut into halves or thirds lengthwise
(Artichokes are very good with firm, well-flavoured fish, and for this dish the tinned ones work much better than the little ones in jars)
About 100g black olives
1 sachet of miso soup made into stock with 3/4 of a cup boiling water
1 medium glass (about 125ml) dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
To serve:
Lemon quarters
Crusty bread

Heat oven to 200C.
Dribble olive oil over base of roasting tin.
Arrange overlapping potato slices to form a more-or-less double layer covering the base.
Pour over the stock. Put tin into oven and turn heat down to 180C.
Cook for approximately 30 minutes, until potatoes are semi-cooked.
Meanwhile, microwave the slices of onion, pepper and aubergine separately for a few minutes on high (the time depends on your microwave) just enough to soften them before they go in the oven.
Take out roasting tin and strew the onion, pepper and aubergine slices evenly over the top. Return to oven for 15 minutes.
Take out tin and add sliced artichoke hearts and olives. Return to oven for 15 minutes.
Take out tin and add cubes of fish. Heat the white wine to reduce it a little, then pour over the fish and vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Return to oven for no more than 10 minutes - just enough to cook the fish through but not dry it out. Check seasoning.
Serve with lemon quarters and crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The aftermath: ham risotto, fluffy pancakes

Have you eaten all the ham yet? Probably you have, but in case you've still got a chunk sitting around, I thought it could be timely to call up a lovely recipe for ham and cheese risotto, or to give it the proper name, Risotto Antico Sabaudo. It's in Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy, and now that we have ham instead of a roast, I make it every year after the big event. Roden calls for only75 grams of ham, but I must admit I like to use about twice that much.
      I first posted about it in January 2011, three weeks after Harvey died.  I noted then that in the last two weeks,  "I've eaten dinner on my own nine times....haven't done much shopping and I've been inclined to eat pasta and rice." I'm recalling it here partly because five years have passed since then, as we recalled when we toasted him and all our other "absent friends" on Christmas Day this year. I served the same risotto again this week for a post-Christmas dinner with friends. 

After all the festive food, ordinary breakfast can seem a bit of a let-down. With two house guests, my son and my New York friend, I thought we should have something a bit more exciting - not, of course, on Boxing Day, when I try not to set pan to stove at all but just point people to the fridge, with its cache of leftovers, but the next day, falling neatly on a Sunday this year. 
       Ages ago I picked up a really good lemon pancake recipe in Moore Wilson, so I made that. It's sad I never made it for Harvey - but he was a real stickler for tradition when it came to pancakes (large with lemon and sugar only),  so he might not have liked it.

This time we had them with poached strawberries, grapes and blueberries, and of course whipped cream. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Savoury bread and butter pudding

Before the onslaught of Christmas richness and excess, here's something light and distinctly un-excessive.
    I don't know whether it's my inherent parsimony or my love of making something delicious out of nothing, but I really enjoy finding a good use for a clutch of leftovers. Last week I had:
- crusts cut from a plate of little salmon sandwiches (with tiny bits of salmon and butter clinging to them), popped into the fridge in case they came in handy
- about half a cup of leftover salmon sandwich filling (tinned salmon mashed with lemon, vinegar and a scrap of creamy salad dressing)
- a third of a loaf of dry but quite good white bread
- a couple of lumps of rather dry cheddar

I considered these remnants thoughtfully, and the idea of a savoury bread and butter pudding swam into view.  So I looked this phrase up on Google, and straight away I found a very appealing recipe by Ruth Pretty.
     (I do prefer to use NZ or, at a pinch, Australian internet recipes - the ingredients and measurements are usually familiar, as are the hobs and ovens, and they always seem to work out well).
      Her recipe did not, of course, have any leftover salmon in it. But it did have cheese, and I thought it could easily be adapted to include a bit of salmon, not to mention crumbs made from crusts.
      But it called for six eggs and looked quite large, so I halved it. And because it was so much smaller, I thought it could probably stand for four hours in advance, rather than the minimum of six she specified. Anyway, I only had four hours to spare before I wanted to bake and eat it, so that would have to do.  

Cheese and salmon savoury bread and butter pudding

Butter to grease dish
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup cream
a dash of chili flakes
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs (I made these from the nicely dry sandwich crusts)
a good-sized piece of stale white bread (not sliced), crusts removed
(weighing about 100g without the crusts)
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup mashed tinned salmon, seasoned to taste (if liked) with lemon and/or vinegar and/or mayonnaise

NB: Mix and stand for four hours before cooking

- Grease a round ceramic or glass baking dish with butter.
· Put eggs, milk, cream if using, and chili flakes into a bowl and whisk to combine.
- Cut bread into 2.5 cm cubes.
- Sprinkle half the breadcrumbs into the base of the dish. Cover with 1/3 of the grated cheese.
- Layer half the cubes of bread on top, cover with the salmon, then sprinkle over another 1/3 of the cheese.
- Cover with remaining cubes of bread.
- Pour egg mixture evenly over bread layers in dish. Season well.
- Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs on top. Cover with remaining 1/3 of cheese.
- Leave dish to stand in fridge for four hours.

- Preheat oven to 180C. Bake bread pudding for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden.
(Ruth's recipe said 20-25 minutes, but even though my pudding was half the size, I preferred to cook it for a little longer so that it was nicely set,but not dried out. The dampish salmon probably meant it needed to cook a bit longer than her recipe without that.)

 This turned out remarkably well - light, tasty and delicious. It serves two generously, or three with lots of veges and/or salad. I had it with skinny asparagus - perfect.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The true Iberian ham

Spanish ham of any kind isn't easy to find in NZ, though On Trays in Petone has Serrano ham - see my earlier post,

On my bus (sorry, coach!) tour of Spain, driving the back roads from Seville to Lisbon, we stopped at a family-owned factory producing the real thing, the ham called bellota. It's made from the meat of small black Iberian pigs who feed (free range, of course) exclusively on acorns.  They deal with 30,000 pigs a year, though not all of them produce bellota - some are for Serrano ham.
        The process of making the hams is remarkably simple, but the care and control that goes into it is remarkable. Essentially, the fresh legs are first buried in salt - the picture shows this stage set up for visitors, the real thing is the same only much bigger. The salt comes from the coast and can be used several times.

They are then air dried in an ascending series of temperatures. 

Each leg is individually coded, tracked and tested, and the entire process can take up to four years, as the ham slowly dries and shrinks.  A family will buy a whole ham for Christmas and New Year for several hundred euros, depending on size - the 100g pack of bellota I bought was 10 euros, 100 euros a kilo, but they're cheaper bought whole. You can see rows of hams hanging up in good restaurants and tapas bars. They need no further cooking. Stored and cut correctly, they keep for months.
Every other part of the pig is also used - nothing is thrown away.  Here I am in front of the hams ready to be on sold to wholesalers...

...and here's the ham on sale in Barcelona's famous covered market.  It is, of course, utterly delicious - a little like prosciutto, but darker and more strongly flavoured. Perfect with a glass of pale, well chilled dry sherry.  Salud!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Chocolate and churros heaven in Avila

I can't travel without chocolate. This time I stocked up in Vienna, where every supermarket has a bank of shelves laden with a huge range of options, from very cheap (but still good) to near top of the line. Some of it was for the friends I was to stay with later, and some was to sustain me. My travelling companion there, Ulrike, had of course come provided with her own supply of neat little individually wrapped oblongs, which she not only shared generously with me but gave to me when she left, to add to my store.
      I knew all about the famous Spanish morning snack of chocolate and churros, but until yesterday I hadn't had any. I'd been put off a bit by the piled up plates of rather stodgy looking churros and the small cups of chocolate I'd seen other people having. Besides, when I was travelling alone it was too soon after breakfast to eat again, and I was busy doing things in the morning. After that I was fully occupied on my Insight coach tour.
      But yesterday, our last day, we came back from Salamanca to Madrid. When we stopped at beautiful walled Avila, Dominic, our very sweet (and incredibly efficient) tour director, told us we were all getting free chocolate and churros there for morning tea.
       We arrived just as a fresh batch of crisp, thin churros was delivered. Each table got a plateful, then the waiters came round with big jugs and poured us large cups of rich dark chocolate. I'm so glad I waited - they were perfect bliss. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Adios, mi amigo

I had my last dinner at La Sanabresa tonight. Roasted red peppers with garlic and flakes of tuna, cod in tomato sauce, and house made tiramisu. I now know the Spanish for " house made", equivalent to French "maison" - it's "casero". Very useful. It was all good, but the cod was particularly impressive. 
        Friday night is family date night, and the prices rise a little accordingly: the main courses I had been ordering in the 11 euro menu migrated tonight to the 13 euro one, which is still a great deal. The restaurant filled up with small family groups and middle aged couples. My waiter dealt with them all with his usual speed and aplomb.
      And I learnt his name: Joaquín. He proudly showed me a laminated copy of a 2003 article from the New York Times, which praised the restaurant handsomely and paid special tribute to Joaquín (and his moustache).  I rustled up enough Spanish to say it was my last night, and tell him my name (Anne/Anna/Ana works extremely well internationally). When I left we shook hands, he embraced me and I managed to say "Adios, mi amigo." I turned for home (well, the hotel) feeling quite sad. Then he came rushing out after me, saying "Sorry!" I had forgotten my scarf. Real life is never quite like the movies.


Friday, September 25, 2015

La Sanabresa 3

So tonight I remembered to take my camera. I was feeling slightly off colour, so I fancied plain food and I got exactly what I wanted. Thin crisp eggplant fritters with lemon...

Roast pork with mashed potato, always my favourite comfort food (and Harvey's too)...

And of course, the flan, which is in fact creme caramel.
At the end I splashed out and had a small decaf espresso. Then I asked my lovely waiter if I could take his photo. He took the camera, gave it to the couple at the next table, got down beside me and asked them to take us both. I managed to tell him (I think) in broken Spanish that I would come one more night and then had to go (vamos). I'm moving to a posh hotel on Saturday to join my bus tour group. But I don't expect any of the flash dinners we'll have will be quite as heartwarming as eating here.