Sophie’s sort-of Sicilian spaghetti

At the moment I’m deeply involved in The Leopard, the famous Italian novel that charts the decline of a noble Silician family during the late 19th century. At a really basic level it’s a bit like a (less violent) version of The Godfather, or The Sopranos. Maybe all life is like that. Anyway, apart from the epic themes of struggle and change and death there are some great descriptions of feasts eaten and given. It’s one of those books where you know it’s all going to end in tears, but you’re compelled to keep reading. I highly recommend it.

Sicilian spaghetti
I made this on Friday night, having opened the pantry and fridge and thought: ‘I only went shopping yesterday, why is there nothing to eat?’ It’s a really good storecupboard sort of dinner and is child-friendly too, especially if your child has a thing for dried fruit, tuna and nuts. I watched Sophie Grigson make it on TV once, about 15 years ago, and I’ve been making it ever since even though I’ve long since lost the notes I made of whatever quantities she used. This is how I made it on Friday night and it was a huge success.

1 red onion, finely chopped
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 x 180g tin of good quality tuna in olive oil
two handfuls of raisins or currants
two handfuls of pine nuts, toasted (I use roughly chopped toasted almonds instead, or sunflower seeds if we are especially poor)
1 cup black olives, stoned
a generous amount of fresh parsley, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
enough spaghetti for three people – for us that’s about 250-300g)

Put the onion and red wine vinegar in a small bowl and leave to steep while you get on with organising everything else. Put the water on to boil for the pasta, and add everything except the spaghetti to the onion mixture. Toss together, add a slosh of olive oil and season to taste.
Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente and drain, then toss it through the sauce. Take a block of Parmesan to the table and let diners add it as they wish. Threaten any non-eaters with a horse’s head in their bed. Serves three.

Fish that goes snap, crackle, pop

Do you remember George Smilovici? He was an Australian comedian in the 80s, whose major hit was a monologue called ‘I’m Tuff’. The only line I could remember – “My rice bubbles are too scared to go ‘snap, crackle, pop’, they just sit in the packet and say ‘sssh, here he comes'” – came to mind last week as I searched the pantry for a bag of panko crumbs to dredge some fish in.
With no panko in sight, my eyes lit upon a packet of rice bubbles instead. To show them how ‘tuff’ I was I pounded them into submission to make a crispy, crunchy coating for some tender terakihi. That’ll teach them.

Crispy turmeric-crusted fish
I have spent a long time trying to come up with a nifty title for this fish, to no avail. Nevermind. It’s worth buying Ricies for, even if you never eat them for breakfast.

600g fresh white fish fillets, cut into manageable pieces
about 3 cups Ricies or other puffed rice cereal, crushed with your hands
1/2 cup cornflour (not to be confused with cornmeal)
2 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt (because I’m a show-off – and we had some – I used some homemade celery salt)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
butter/oil to cook the fish

Set up a production line: put the cornflour into a shallow bowl, put the lightly beaten eggs in another and mix the crushed rice cereal with the turmeric and salt in a third.
Line a large platter with some greaseproof paper.
Dip each fillet into the cornflour, then the egg, then the rice cereal, then put it on the prepared platter. Repeat until all the fish is coated. Cover the platter loosely and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Heat a large, heavy pan and throw in a squirt of olive oil and a knob of butter. Fry the fish, a couple of minutes each side, until cooked. Serve with a dollop of DIY tartare sauce. Serves four.

One-pot smoky fish and rice

In my next life I am going to eschew academia and pursue a trade. Specifically, I am going to be a dishwasher repairwoman. You will know me by my extremely high hourly rate, my inability to keep appointments and my total disregard for the chaos my laissez-faire attitude brings to other peoples’ lives.
Our dishwasher has been on the blink for two weeks and the strain is beginning to show. The frustrating thing is that it still works, but a tiny catch in the door has broken and so we can’t get it open without jamming a screwdriver in one side. This method is having grave repercussions on the structure of the door itself and so I am reluctant to continue with it. However I am also getting very tired of doing the dishes while I wait for Mr Unreliable Dishwasher Fixit Man to come back with the minute part needed to solve the problem.

One-Pan Smoked Fish And Rice

One-pot smoky fish and rice
This is hardly a recipe, but it is an extremely handy method of cooking dinner without making any dishes. I’ve only tried it with smoked fish so far, but I daresay you could give it a whirl with very thin fillets of fish as the heat from the rice should be enough to cook it through.

300g jasmine rice, well washed in cold running water
500ml cold water
1 lemon, washed and cut into slices
smoked fish of your choice – it’s smoked trevally in the photo above, but smoked eel or hot smoked salmon are also good done this way

Put the washed rice and water in a large pot. Cover tightly and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and let simmer for 12 minutes. Turn the heat off, then quickly lift the lid and put the lemon slices on top of the rice, followed by the fish. Put the lid back on as quickly as possible and let the rice stand for 10 minutes.
While you’re waiting, blanch some Chinese greens in boiling water and drain. Lift the fish out from the rice and onto a clean board. Fluff the rice up with a fork and divide between four bowls. Put the greens, fish and lemons on top. Dress with soy sauce or rice vinegar as you see fit.

What kitchen gadget would you miss the most if it suddenly went out of action? Do you know any good dishwasher repairers?

Salmon and apple sliders

Last week I walked past a cafe that had been one of the hottest tickets in town when I was a student.
I remembered how my boyfriend (cringe) and I would go there on a Sunday morning sometimes and eat focaccia with smoked salmon and apple while we read the paper, feeling very sophisticated and urban.

The cafe has long since changed hands and I think I’d cross the road if I saw the (ex)boyfriend coming towards me, but having just re-visited the salmon and apple combo, I can confirm it’s still good.

Hot smoked salmon and apple sliders
Forget the focaccia, darling and chuck out the ciabatta, these days it’s all about sliders. In case the rebranding revolution hasn’t reached you yet, sliders are baby burger buns and they are the bread on everyone’s lips.
Al Brown is responsible for their rise to prominence here and it’s funny watching people who wouldn’t dream of raving about a mini burger going all ga-ga over them.
If you happen across some, or happen to make some, here’s what you can put on them. Or, if you want to party like it’s 1993, this mixture still works well on focaccia. It’s good for brunch, lunch or as a substantial canape.

Bread of your choice
Butter
Rocket
Hot smoked salmon
Capers
Apple, thinly sliced
Creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt

Gently warm the bread or buns (wrap in foil and put in a low-ish oven for 10 minutes). Slice the buns in half and butter lightly.
Top with rocket, then wafers of apple, then chunks of salmon. Scatter capers on top, then dollop on a bit of creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt. Grind over lots of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

The definitive whitebait pattie

Last week the Small Girl and I took our lives in our hands and flew down to the West Coast for a few days. I don’t know why people pay huge sums to parachute or bungy jump when they come to New Zealand – merely taking off from Wellington airport in a small plane in a storm is enough to give you all the adrenaline boost you need, with a handy top-up when you land practically on the beach at Westport.
As if that wasn’t stressful enough, I then had to turn my hand to cooking whitebait fritters for a household who can remember when whitebait was so plentiful people used to put it on their gardens for fertiliser (and they say Coasters aren’t environmentally aware!)

Actually, that’s not strictly true. Following my mother-in-law’s instructions, I made the batter and my brother-in-law (showing hitherto unknown talents) cooked them. This is how to do it.

Whitebait patties
As previously mentioned, West Coasters catch (or buy) whitebait in pounds, which then get cooked in patties (not fritters). Two pounds-worth makes enough patties for four hungry adults, with the leftovers fought over for whitebait pattie sandwiches the next day.
2lbs whitebait
5 eggs
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

First, catch your whitebait. Then rinse it carefully while listening to stories of how much better it is now that raw sewage no longer flows into the Buller River. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs and dry ingredients together to make a smooth batter, then stir in the whitebait.
Melt a generous knob of butter in a heavy frying pan. Cook the patties as if they are pikelets until golden on both sides. Serve with lemon wedges.