Week Forty Five

Our recent holiday in Suffolk was wonderful, we were particularly lucky as we had spectacular weather. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to missing the opportunity to holiday abroad. Normally we spend our summer holidays in Italy, where we own a small ‘bolt hole’. Our little corner of Italy is a home from home, yet at the same time, with the glorious Italian weather and culture, it offers a breath of fresh air from our ‘norm’. Right now I’m feeling rather nostalgic for an Italian break, but despite travel restrictions being lifted we haven’t yet planned a visit – as I write this, Italy is still requiring British tourists to quarantine for five days. So, in the meantime, this week I thought I’d share some recipes which are inspired by the wonderful Italian cuisine…

One of my favourite places to eat when we visit ‘our corner’ of Italy is a fish restaurant which overlooks an estuary, it’s a little old fashioned – it still has a dessert trolley(!) – but it serves delicious classic Italian fish dishes. My favourite is their salt baked sea bass. For many years I could never find a restaurant that was able to match the deliciousness of this dish (obviously the setting helped!). However, some time ago whilst visiting of all places Las Vegas, I ate at a wonderful Italian restaurant at the Wynn Hotel and ordered their version of salt-baked sea bass. They flavoured the salt around the sea bass with star anise and orange, and served it with a delicious citrus dressing (Agrumi Sauce), it really was incredible. Immediately afterwards I ‘googled’ the recipe (thank God for Google!), and since then I have always used this recipe at home! So, this week’s Menu One is my favourite version of the Italian inspired recipe for Salt-Baked Sea Bass (with Agrumi Sauce). Baking fish in salt is extremely easy, and it is strangely satisfying when you remove the baked salt crust! To make this dish even more special, you should serve it with Samphire New Potatoes – the subtly salty flavours of these potatoes with just a touch of lemon complement the fish beautifully. Menu Two is ‘Crab and Asparagus Linguine with Chilli’, there are many variations of pasta dishes with crab, this is one of our family favourites. I must admit, with the addition of asparagus I’m not sure how authentic this recipe is, but it reminds me of the Italian sun, so it ticks my nostalgia box! Menu Three is a ‘spin’ on the Italian dish of Carbonara. Traditionally this Roman classic is simply made with spaghetti, eggs, pancetta and pecorino, but in this recipe by Diana Henry, she has replaced the pancetta with courgette, thus making it a great vegetarian option without forfeiting the flavour!  Finally, no summer in Italy would be complete without a cocktail, and very often I like a Mojito after a long day on the beach. So, to complete Menu Mistress’s Italian menu I’m sharing my favourite Mojito recipe!

Hopefully, these recipes will bring a little bit of Italy to your kitchen this week…enjoy!…

P.S. This week I’m sharing some new tunes…Music to Cook to…MenuMusic Fourteen is a classic mix of soul tracks, it’s perfect for lifting your spirits and on the rainiest summer day it will bring a bit of sunshine to your kitchen!!…

Menu One

Sea Bass Baked in Salt with Agrumi Sauce served with New Potatoes, Lemon & Samphire (Serves 4)

By cooking fish in a salt crust you trap all of its natural flavours and moisture, it doesn’t make the fish any saltier than if you seasoned it regularly, but it does ensure that your fish is beautifully moist and flavoursome! In this recipe the salt paste is flavoured with star anise and orange, which very delicately adds to the flavour of the fish. The oven-baked crusted salt is then removed to reveal a perfectly cooked fish which falls easily from the bone, it is served simply with a delicious citrus dressing, Agrumi Sauce. It is an easy yet impressive recipe, I like to serve it with ‘New Potatoes with Lemon & Samphire’ (recipe below) and a good green salad.

*if you can’t find anise seeds in your local supermarket they are available on Amazon.

1 whole sea bass to serve 4 people (or 2 smaller fish)

1.2kg course sea salt

25g anise seed

25g star anise, crushed in a mortar

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon

5 egg whites, lightly beaten

½ to 1 orange, sliced into half moons

Several sprigs flat leaf parsley

For the Agrumi Sauce:

120ml freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Zest of ½ orange

Zest ½ lemon

175ml extra-virgin olive oil

5 mint leaves (plus more to garnish)

5 basil leaves (plus more to garnish)

Salt

  1. To make the agrumi sauce, stir all the ingredients together in a bowl, bruising the herbs with the back of the spoon. Season to taste with salt and let it sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavours to develop, then strain through a sieve to serve.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the course sea salt, anise seeds, crushed star anise, orange and lemon zests and the egg whites; it will have the consistency of wet sand.
  3. Stuff the fish’s cavity with the orange slices and parsley sprigs. Spoon 1/3 of the salt mixture onto a baking dish large enough to hold the fish. Set the fish on the salt mixture (if using 2 smaller fish set them side by side over the salt mixture). Cover the entire fish with the remaining salt mixture and pat it down into place.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven, 200’c fan, for about 25 minutes until cooked (a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the fish measures 130’c).
  5. To serve, using a knife or spoon, crack the salt crust off the top of the fish and discard. Lift the fish from the salt and carefully fillet the fish by removing the skin and large bones. Transfer the filleted fish to plates and serve with the agrumi sauce. Garnish with additional mint and basil leaves.

New Potatoes with Lemon & Samphire (Serves 4-6)

It’s always good to have different recipe ideas for potatoes and this one is a new favourite of mine. These potatoes are fabulous with fish, the subtle saltiness of the samphire complements its delicate flavour. I discovered the recipe in Skye McAlpine’s cookbook ‘A Table for Friends’, it’s such a simple idea to combine samphire and lemon with new potatoes but so effective and wonderfully simple. The potatoes can be served warm or at room temperature, but make sure you dress them with the olive oil and lemon whilst they are still piping hot, so that the citrusy flavours are infused with the heat.

1 kg baby new potatoes

5-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon sliced into very thin rounds

90g samphire

Large bunch of parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Sea salt flakes

  1. Steam the potatoes until cooked through.
  2. Drizzle the hot, cooked potatoes generously with the olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt (not too much as the samphire will be salty). Toss well then add the lemon slices and toss again.
  3. Meanwhile steam the samphire for 4-6 minutes until al dente, then add to the potatoes and stir gently to combine.
  4. When the potatoes have cooled a little add the chopped parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Menu Two

Asparagus & Crab Linguine with Chilli (Serves 4)

There are many variations of pasta dishes with crab, but this recipe with the addition of asparagus is a firm family favourite, the asparagus complements the crab beautifully without overpowering it. It is a lovely fresh tasting dish which is super quick to make!

400g linguine (or spaghetti)

Large knob of butter

4 tablespoons extra virgin oil

2 small red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

250g asparagus

300g crab meat

4 tablespoons chives, finely chopped

1 lemon, zested and juiced

  1. First of all prepare the asparagus by snapping off and discarding the woody ends, then slice the stalks lengthways.
  2. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet until al dente.
  3. Meanwhile heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and chilli, then the asparagus. Cook for about 3 minutes until the asparagus starts to soften.
  4. Add the crabmeat to heat through, then remove from the hob.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain (reserving a little cooking water) and add to the asparagus pan. Place is back on the heat, add the chives, lemon zest and juice and toss well, adding a spoonful of the reserved cooking water to loosen if needed. Season and serve with an extra glug of olive oil.

Menu Three

Courgette ‘Carbonara’ – Pasta all’Ortolanana (Serves 4)

This is a wonderful recipe from Diana Henry’s cookbook, ‘Simple’, it is basically carbonara but the bacon is substituted with courgettes, thus making it a great vegetarian option…and a delicious one at that!…

300-400g spaghetti

400g courgettes

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, very finely sliced

1 garlic clove, very finely sliced

2 eggs, plus 4 egg yolks

100g finely grated Parmesan cheese

50g finely grated Pecorino cheese

Leaves from a small bunch basil, torn

Salt and black pepper

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, top and tail the courgettes and cut the flesh into thin batons. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the courgettes and onions over a medium-high heat until golden and cooked through. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. In a bowl, beat the eggs, the yolks and both cheeses, seasoning with lots of black pepper.
  4. When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving half a cup of cooking water. Pour the reserved pasta water into the courgettes and then add the spaghetti, stir the mixture over the heat for a few moments to allow the water to evaporate and the spaghetti to absorb some of the flavours.
  5. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the egg and cheese mixture, mixing well so that every strand of pasta is covered and the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if required. Sprinkle over the torn basil leaves and serve immediately.

And A Little Treat…

A Classic Mojito (Serves 1)

There are many recipes around for Mojitos, I prefer mine with dark Havana rum, and just a splash of soda – too much and you spoil it! Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying an authentic Mojito in Cuba (although Havana is on my bucket list!), the nearest I’ve been is a Cuban bar in Florida, where they assured me that dark rum was the way to go – who am I to argue!…

*To crush/crack the ice cubes: put the ice in a bag, cover this with a tea towel, then use a rolling pin to bash/ crush them.

50ml Havana Club Dark Rum

3 teaspoons sugar syrup

8 mint leaves

Juice of a lime

A splash of soda – about 30ml

Ice cubes, gently crushed/cracked (see note above)

  1. Place the mint leaves in a glass, add the sugar syrup and use the back of a spoon to gently crush the leaves to release the mint oil.
  2. Add the rum, the lime juice and the crushed/cracked ice cubes. Give it a good stir then top with a splash of soda, stir again and serve.

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