Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Piece of cod…

There is change in the air. Summer is moving to autumn and cooler winds mean jumpers and even jackets. Bows on the trees groan with the weight of apples that should have been picked. Morning mists hang static and damper nights draw in sooner.

Depressing? Not really. I love that time of year. The subtlest smell of smoke from bonfires burning the end-of-Summer pruning drifts in the air. Trees perhaps looking sad and naked, but their roots will be cloaked with piles of dry brittle leaves just ready for the kicking. But I am not ready for that just yet. In my defiantly Summery mood I am still wearing shorts (Ok, only indoors and with a jumper), eating salads, draining the last reserves of the rosé wine, and reading books that bring summer thoughts to the coolest and darkest corners of the house.

Even so, I want to cook something that reflects my contrary mood. I am leaning towards heartier ingredients to keep me warm, and, as I am recovering from the heaviest of ‘man flu’ colds, has a healthy element to it as well.

No matter how hard I try to avoid it though, thoughts of the Mediterranean tug me this way and that. Who can resist the idea of dishes of honeyed roasted quail with hints of cinnamon; courgettes with mint; saffroned rice or chillied couscous; brined Kalamata olives or soapy aromatic green Lucques; chicken or lamb perfumed by sweet herbs; grilled octopus flambéed in ouzo? So how do I satisfy this while being in the heart of the seasonally changing English countryside?

My answer lies in Aunt J’s larder and with a local business that specialises in mail order fish; The Fish Society ( In a very English way but with a nod to the Middle Sea I have chosen to do Cod with tapenade crust (served with roasted tomatoes, new potatoes and spinach for the health and heartiness).

Salted cod has a wonderfully concentrated flavour, making it richer, creamier than the ordinary supermarket catch. Admittedly, it has to be soaked for ages (in a bowl under a dripping tap was a method suggested by my landlady in Seville) and I have made some mouth desiccating gaffes with it.

Tapenade has a naturally bitter and saline element coming from the capers, olives and anchovies. Usually used on crostini, bruschetti, or French equivalent, it is a versatile paste and should draw out the sweetness of the cod, seasoning it naturally. Richard Ehrlich from the Guardian says the word Tapenade comes from the Provençal word ‘tapeno’ meaning caper, and that traditionally it is only olive, caper and olive oil. I prefer the ‘full fat’ version using anchovy, garlic and lemon juice as well for added ‘beef’.

Cod with Tapenade crust

Large piece of cod (salt cod rinsed thoroughly, or plain cod)

Jar of Tapenade (I had a jar of olive paste and added a teaspoon of rinsed capers, a good squeeze of anchovy purée, garlic, tossed into the blender then added oil to loosen and a squeeze of lemon juice)

Plum tomatoes on the vine

New potatoes

Baby leaf spinach

Flat leaf parley for garnish

Massage the cod with olive oil, smear the top with the tapenade and place in a roasting dish. I parboiled some large new potatoes, sliced them into thick discs and placing them under the fish first. Oil the tomatoes keeping them on the vine, put them around the cod. Place in a heated oven for 20 minutes at 180C (this could vary depending on the size of the fish). Remove the fish and tomatoes to a warm plate, throw the spinach into the roasting dish and wilt in the oils.

Not one to pat myself on the back (Oh go on Lou), this works for me. The contrast between the green and red vegetables and the dramatic black on white of the fish and paste (similar in contrast to the Cristianos y Moros recipe of beans and rice) is pleasing to the eye. To the taste, the sourness of the tapenade contrasted well with the rich, meaty fish emphasising its natural sweetness. The pepper and citrus zing were well tempered by the potatoes (thank goodness I was feeling greedy!) and further helped by a bottle of chilled and summer and citrus fruit flavoured Torres rosé (congratulations to Miguel Torres on his wine award for life time achievement) to keep in the spirit of things.

In the end, summer is still in my soul for the short term and my thirst for sun will be thankfully sated by my holiday to Spain. Then, and only then, will I be ready for the autumn lull and the run up to Christmas (did I say that?!), coats, boots, fires and stews.

1 comment:

  1. How lovely. Would you recommend the Fish Society for salt cod then?