Give me some seafood, Mama
I WAS IN Cambridge for the feast of St Joseph the Worker, doing a recording for a food quiz called A Matter of Taste, a nice, light-hearted affair. I had Anthony Worrall Thompson as my partner to duel against Oz, the wine writer, and a beautiful Italian vegetarian called Ursula Ferrano, I think, who proudly announced she had opened the first non-alcoholic, non-smoking, vege- tarian restaurant in Stockport (And even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer'). I got the giggles but suppressed them. After the show was over we were taken by our quiz-master, the lovely Chris Kelly, to a marvellous restaurant he owns on the river. It was a beautiful evening, there was a fair in the distance, the jeunesse were looking very doree outside a pub in a floodlit garden, so all was well in the world. We had the most magnificent dinner, equal to any of the best restaurants in London, produced by the chef de cui- sine, Hans Schweitzer, who is Chris's part- ner. If you ever need food in Cambridge, go there. It is called Midsummer House (tel: 0223 69299).
I once had a most delicious dish of fish cooked by Julian Barran, very suitable for this time of year.
Fish with spring vegetables
2 lbs firm white fish (sole, monk, John Dory, turbot or bass etc) 1 medium carrot 1 leek — white part only the inside of a head of celery 1 medium potato 20 tiny French beans 1 bunch chives 4 fluid oz double cream 1 oz butter salt and pepper
Try to get a good fishmonger to fillet and skin whichever fish you use, especially if it is the splendid John Dory, which is quite tricky. Cut the fillets into finger-size strips. Peel the carrot and trim the leek and celery heart. Wash thoroughly and cut into juli- enne strips the size of matchsticks. Peel and wash the potato, then cut into large dice and cook in lightly salted water until tender. Top and tail the French beans, wash and cook in a large pan of boiling, salted water for about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain and refresh in cold water. Drain again and reserve on one side on a cloth. Chop the chives finely. Now to cook. Put the julienne vegetables into a small saucepan with a pinch of salt, 3 table- spoons of water and a teaspoon of butter. Cover and cook briskly until the carrots are tender and the water has almost evaporat- ed. These strips should still have a bite to them and the whole operation should take about 8 minutes. Keep warm. Pour the cream into a saucepan, add a little salt and the strips of fish. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Strain the cream into a liquidiser and place the fillets in the pan with the julienne strips and the beans, which should be quite dry. Add half the diced potatoes to the cream in the liquidiser and whizz until you have a smooth, light sauce; add more potato if it seems too thin. Add the remaining butter, season to taste and blend again. Pour the sauce over the fish and vegetables in the saucepan, bring to the boil rapidly, stir in the chopped chives and serve immediately. I know it sounds complicated, but once you have everything at the ready it is quite easy and the velvety, natural sauce is a treat.
A more robust fish dish which should be made with sea bass — but any of the fish above could be used or good old coley, which is far cheaper and excellent, though despised by foolish folk — is an Italian receipt full of flavour and goodness.
Sea bass with black olives
1 lb fillet of fish, boned and skinned 5 oz black olives, stoned 7 oz peeled potatoes 3 shallots 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 sprigs fresh thyme a few basil leaves fine semolina for coating
Pound the olives until you have a rough sort of paste. Pull the leaves off the thyme and mix with about 4 oz of semolina. Cut the fish into four equal portions. Cover one side with the olive paste, then coat the whole thing with the semolina. Reserve in the refrigerator. Cook the potatoes in boil- ing, salted water, drain them and pass through a mouli or sieve. Chop the shallots finely and melt them in some olive oil in a saucepan. When soft, but not browned, add the potato, salt and pepper and more oil to taste. Keep warm. Fry the fish in a little oil for about 3 minutes on each side. Arrange the fish on top of the potatoes. Serve hot with a few fried basil leaves.