Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Fishing for Condiments

Zuppa di Merluzzo alla Mediterranea
Mediterranean Cod Fish Soup

What madness is this?!? Because clearly I must have been made to have come up with the idea of making a fish soup! Me of all people! Yes, you all know that I love soups, but you also know that I am not the greatest fan of fish... it does happen occasionally- but I would say that it happens on rare occasion rather then being a frequent ingredient on my menu...

... but it was cold, I was hungry, and there was this last piece of frozen cod in the freezer, smiling at me when I opened the door and reminding me that it couldn't stay there forever. So I took pity on it and fetched it out- and upon seeing how small it was, then began to feel sorry for myself too. I couldn't help thinking that as tiny as it was, this was not going to make much of a meal, was it? Or was it?...

So I began to hatch a plan to make a rich and flavorful broth to poach the fish in, with some nice vegetables and some deliciously intense salami to up the stakes a little. And a shot of Sambuca- why not? It is not as if I am a drinker, by any stretch of the imagination... and it was cold outside! Look- don't judge me- ok? The alcohol cooks away anyway. Which was why I decided to sip on a little glassful while I cooked... I will never become a drinker if I don't get some practice in after all! :-)

Whilst I sip my second glass of Sambuca (ahem), let me point out the ingredients I used to make my delicious little soup- don't worry- it won't take long as they were preciously few! And I would urge you to bear this in mind should you make this soup- because in my humble opinion, in this case and any case when it comes to cooking, it is all about balance. I know it may get a little boring for you to hear me repeat this time and time again... but it really IS the most important thing to remember.

To make this outrageously tasty soup, you are going to need, per person, 1 small fillet of cod, cut into bite-sized pieces, one small onion, 1 small bell pepper (or about a third of a regular sized one), a half stalk of celery and some of the leaves, a quarter of a small fennel bulb, a nice sprig of thyme and just a few, 5-6 slices of a rich salami, cut into quarters and depending on their size, just 3-4 sliced cherry tomatoes.

This was a really easy dish to prepare. I began by heating up the salami in a saucepan until it began to sizzle and sweat-off its fat, then added the carrots, the celery, the fennel and the onion. I stir-fried these ingredients up until the point that the onion and celery began to slowly turn translucent and a tad brown at the edges, the added half of the thyme and seasoned with salt and pepper. 

I then added a tablespoon of tomato paste, stirred this in quickly and then after a minute or so, added a nice splash of Sambuca- about a shot glass full. I just as quickly stirred this in, so as to stir up all of the good flavors from the base of the saucepan and then added boiling water, the few celery leaves that I had, plucked into little pieces, a bay leaf, about a half teaspoon of smoked paprika powder and of course salt and pepper. 

I reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and let it bubble away for the next 15 minutes or so. And though you may not imagine it, in that time, the flavor of the broth becomes lovely and rich through the celery, fennel, carrot and onion and that salty and rich salami. The Sambuca emphasizes the anise-flavor of the fennel and makes the broth much richer and more complex... in the best possible way. 

All that remained to be done now was for the fish and the sliced cherry tomatoes to be added, as they were the most delicate ingredients. Basically, it just took 5 minutes of gentle simmering or so to cook the cod until it was just beginning to flake apart and the tomatoes were just beginning to soften and give off their juices- perfect! Time to go grab myself a bowl and dish it up!

I added a good sprinkle of fennel greens and plucked thyme leaves to freshen up the flavor a little, and gave it a good grind of fresh pepper before digging-in and enjoying this wonderfully rich and hearty soup! There were all of the flavors of the Mediterranean, right there in one dish- and they tasted so good!

I hope that, without wanting to sound for a second as if I am preaching, that you can see that you really don't need much in the way of ingredients to make a totally tasty and delicious meal. I am sure the photos here speak for themselves when it comes to conveying flavor- you can simply SEE how tasty this was... I just wish you could smell it and taste it too!

But I suppose that would mean that you will all have to go ahead and make it for yourselves... what a brilliant idea! I hope you all try it and enjoy!

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