Ready Steady Cooks Viral Antidote 6: Cod in a rich tomato sauce with courgette and sweet potato ‘pasta’

This one is for Claudia and Malc. Claudia gave me cod, all sorts of tomatoes, courgette and sweet potato.

First, the tomato sauce.  It is rich and savoury.

Finely chop an onion, a celery stick if you have it, and a carrot.  Melt some butter in a pan with some olive oil and half a tin of anchovies and a couple of bay leaves. Add the vegetables and stir around in the buttery oil and then add a good grating of a large clove of garlic. Don’t stir this in, otherwise it will caramelise, be bitter and stick. All at the same time.  Just let it melt into the vegetables.

I rarely use a garlic press nowadays, instead I either give a clove of garlic a damned good slam with the heel of my hand and then work in some salt having transferred it to  a little pestle and mortar (Alternatively use a fine microplane grater held over the pan).

Add a few chilli flakes to taste. Keep it gently burbling away without a lid, until the vegetables are soft – about 10 minutes The Italians call this sofrito.  When it is soft, throw in a glass of good red wine (cheap wine = cheap tasting sauce), and reduce on a high heat to practically nothing. Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes and some chopped thyme or rosemary.  Bubble away, stirring from time to time, for a good 20 minutes until the sauce reduces a bit more.  Toward the end, add black pepper, a few black or green olives, maybe a little salt but you probably won’t need it because the anchovies will have seasoned it, and a flat dessert spoon of brown sugar. Taste, stir, taste, adjust seasoning, take out the bay leaves and set the sauce to one side.

Whilst the sauce is cooking, season two cod fillets with gremolata  which always sits on my work surface beside the chopping board.  If you are using frozen cod, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted.

What about the courgette and sweet potato, I hear you ask?  If you have a spiraliser, then use it to spiralise one big courgette and a peeled medium sized sweet potato.  If you don’t have a spiraliser (I don’t)  then use the potato peeler or a sharp knife to cut strips off the vegetables about 0.25cm thick, then cut the big strips into smaller strips, lengthways. It really doesn’t take long. You now have lots of strips of courgette and sweet potato – not as long as spaghetti or spiralised but just as tasty.

Now put the fish onto the tomato sauce and keep it bubbling gently for no more than 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of your cod).  The idea is to just-cook the fish, not massacre it!

Put a wide, shallow pan on the hob with a glug of olive oil and about 75ml water. Turn the hob to very hot.  When it is steaming, add the courgettini and the potatotini.  Clamp on the lid and cook fast, shaking it about  to distribute the oil and water. The reason for using the shallow wide pan is to increase the surface area on which the spaghettini cooks so that it cooks quickly and evenly in the water, oil and eventually, steam. Eventually after 5 minutes or so – no more – they should be cooked (al-dente) and with very little – if any – liquid left in the pan.  If there is any, just drain it off.  You are ready to serve.  Throw in a good knob of butter and season with a bit more gremolata and some chopped basil if you have it.

Either serve straight onto a plate with the vegetables serving as ‘spaghettini’ with the sauce and its friend the cod on top, or straight into a serving dish.  Finish with a little more basil and a grind of black pepper.  Have a little parmesan to hand to sprinkle on top if you wish.

Hope you enjoy it Claudia and Malc.

Gravlax – you still have time!

My late pa-in-law Dennis was always in charge of the Gravlax at Christmas. And it was always gorgeous.  So I make no bones about it – this is the recipe he gave me. I have just added one twist to it.

Take one large fillet of wild salmon. Please don’t use the farmed stuff – it’s pale pink and it hasn’t worked hard enough and it is all flabby like a wet tissue.  A wild salmon is bright pink, firm and dense in texture.  Many, many books and people will tell you to ask for the ‘thick cut’ – ie furthest away from the tail where it tapers off (where it is not so thick).  If you buy the whole fillet it is often cheaper and you will have plenty to cure and sufficient at the tail end to mix with pasta, creme fraiche, dill and anchovy for a quick supper, leaving the nice thick rump and head end for your gravlax.

The gravlax takes only minutes to prepare.  First wash your hands and work surface thoroughly, and pour boiling water into the container you are going to use, to sterilise it.  Finely chop a large bunch of dill leaves (the equivalent of four of those little packs from Waitrose).  Put the dill in a large bowl with six tablespoons of rock or seasalt, two tablespoons of light muscovado sugar, two teaspoons of black pepper and mix together.  Now take your fillet and first cut off the thinner bit at the end, where it starts to taper.  Cut the remaining fillet in half across the fish so that you have two thick fillets of equal (ish) size.

Use any container that can accomodate the fish and where it will fit snugly inside.  Dry the container after sterilising it. Put one third of the dill mixture on the bottom.  Place one thick fillet skin side down on top of the dill. Now add another layer of dill on top of the fish and finish with the second fillet and the remainder of the dill mixture.  Press down hard.  My addition to the Dennis recipe is to add 75ml of vodka before putting on the lid or covering in clingfilm then adding a heavy weight on top to press it all down.  Put in the fridge of 24 hours then remove from the fridge and carefully remove the contents of the container onto a plate, upside down.  Now use a fish slice or a pallet knife and return to the container, this time with the fillet that was at the top, now at the bottom.  Scrape any dill mixture that might have escaped back onto the fish, and any vodka juices.  Now leave in the fridge for another two days without touching it.

On Christmas Day, take it out of the fridge about an hour before you are going to use it, scrape away the dill cure, take one fillet and carve it thinly across the grain (not down) and eat for breakfast with scrambled eggs and rye bread.  Oh and the first glass of fizz.   At least, that’s what we do. Works every time.

This will keep for about a week in the fridge so long as you return it to the fridge in the original container and the cure as soon as you have carved it, and cover it tightly.  Doesn’t last that long in our house though.  You will get about 15-20 servings from this.

RIP Dennis and thank you.