My return to the land of 'serious work' has, by choice, been on a part-time basis on the grounds that I could devote time and energy to working out how, indeed if, I can turn my passion for food and writing into something that could financially fill more of my life. Also it's a time to try different things out - an eight week stint in a chocolate shop was fun but I soon realised that life behind a counter is not for me. An evening food journalism course was exciting and has left me hungry for more. And yet I am still struggling to find my way.
Plus, of course, it is amazing how quickly those 'spare' two days are filled with house hunting, running errands and recently, traveling. So last Friday I was determined to do something food-related so headed to Borough Market for inspiration.
The market on Saturdays is now almost impossible to navigate unless visited at the crack of dawn due to the coach loads of gastro tourists, however Fridays are slightly less bustling with a strange but happy mixture of suits buying their lunch, serious shoppers seeking ingredients for the weekend and, of course, the ubiquitous film crews.
Mindful that we were having friends over for dinner on Saturday night to celebrate their engagement (yippee), I headed for the Morcombe Bay fish stall. I explained to the lovely fishmonger what I wanted to cook and he recommended Scottish hake, promptly disappeared into his walk-in fridge and emerged with a huge, glistening fish. A few deftly applied blows of a cleaver ensued and I was presented with two beautiful fillets with a silvery, pinkish skin that shimmered in the light. I was also offered the head which I declined to which it was plonked onto a waiting spike to either ward off or to entice my fellow shoppers. I couldn't quite decide which.
Last weekend in Vienna I ate a delicious salad of green and white asparagus with strawberries and a balsamic dressing, in which, unfortunately the ingredients swam. Seeing both kinds of the veg nestled side by side on a stall, I whisked them up and decided to replicate the dish as a starter at home. The greengrocer insisted that the Dutch white asparagus was not grown in banks and that is was 'just white' naturally - hmmm. My research begs to differ but who am I to argue with a chap in the know?
One jar of wonderful gooseberry and elderflower jam for an afternoon cake and a bunch of end of season of rhubarb and I was good to go. The makings of a three course meal were in my bags - let the cooking commence.
Roast Hake with Salsa Verde (serves 4)
leaves from a handful of flat-leaf parsley
leaves of a spring of mint
2 tbsp capers
3 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
2 cloves of garlic
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into eight slices
bunch thyme (the lemon variety is great if you can get it)
2 fillets hake approx 500-600g each (salmon works equally well as does cod)
Heat oven to 220C/gas 7. To make the salsa verde roughly chop the first four ingredients with one of the garlic cloves and then give them a good pounding in a pestle and mortar with a good grinding of black pepper.
Line the base of a roasting tin with baking parchment and lay the tomato slices in four lines across the base of the tine. Slice the remaining garlic clove and scatter over the tomato along with most of the thyme sprigs (save one). Sprinkle over approx 1tbsp oil and a glug of wine - this prevents the fish from sticking and produces a wonderfully fragrant sauce.
Brush the skin-side of one hake fillet with oil and place, skin-down, on the tomatoes. Cover with the salsa then top with the other hake fillet, flesh side down. Rub a little oil into the skin, season and sprinkle with the leaves from the remaining thyme sprig.
Roast for 20-25 mins until cooked through. Cut the fish into slices and serve with the tomatoes and spoonfuls of the sauce.
J turned the asparagus into a delicious (and in my opinion far superior) version of that which we ate in Austria - simple, elegant and seasonal with a delicate dressing of balsamic and oil which complemented the sweetness of the strawberries whilst not overpowering the asparagus.
And the rhubarb?
Rhubarb and Orange Cake (from a Waitrose recipe card)
400g rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm pieces
200g golden caster sugar
150g butter, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
75g self-raising flour, sifted
1/2tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
grated zest of one orange plus 2tbsp juice
30g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 190C/gas 5. Grease an eight inch springform round cake tin and line.
Place the rhubarb in a bowl and cover with 50g of the sugar and leave for a minimum of 30mins.
Cream the remaining sugar with the butter and incorporate the eggs and flour, a little of each at a time to avoid curdling. Fold in the ground almonds and baking powder and then stir in the orange zest and juice.
Add the rhubarb and its sugary juice to the cake mix and pour into the waiting cake tin. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds, put the tin on a baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for 25mins.
Reduce the temperature to 180C/gas 4 and cook for another 20-25 minutes or until firm. Allow to cool in the tine for 10 mins.
We served with double cream which J so cruelly, but expertly, whipped.
Gosset non-vintage champagne and Porcupine Ridge sauvingon blanc tickled our palates and helped us to celebrate both a new engagement and a new friendship.