I brought a big bowl of fish soup to the table this week, brick red with roasted peppers, thick with cod cheeks and clams. With a pot of glistening yellow aioli so thick you could cut it with a knife and a pile of olive oil-fried bread, it formed a quietly perfect early summer lunch.
The cod cheeks were cheap and sustainable, but also held their firm texture well. Each clam was a tiny treat to be picked up, the shells holding not only the little clam, but a delicious piscine puddle of sauce and beads of golden garlic mayonnaise.
We needed little to follow, but the local strawberries are cheap and have benefitted from six weeks of early summer sun. We sliced them over hazelnut shortbreads with luminous apricot jam and a wave of whipped cream.
Romano pepper and shellfish soup
I like a bowl of croûtes with fish soup. Roughly tear a couple of thick slices of bread into bite-sized pieces, fry them for a minute or two in shallow olive oil, then set aside on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with salt and offer them at the table, together with a bowl of garlicky aioli. Serves 4
romano peppers 5, large
olive oil 5 tbsp
garlic 1 head
prawns 12 large, shell on
leek 1, medium
bay leaves 3
black peppercorns 10
parsley stalks 15g
cod cheeks 500g
For the aioli:
roasted garlic half from above
egg yolk 1
groundnut or vegetable oil 200ml
olive oil 150ml
fried croûtes see recipe introduction
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Lay the peppers in a roasting tin, pour over the olive oil, then turn the peppers so they are evenly coated. Tuck the whole head of garlic among them, then bake for about 45 minutes until the peppers have softened and collapsed.
Peel the prawns and remove their heads, then put the shells and heads into a medium-sized saucepan. Trim and roughly chop the leek (I leave all but the very tips of the leaves on) then add it to the prawn shells with the bay leaves, peppercorns and the parsley stalks. Set the prawns aside. Pour a litre of water into the pan, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered by a lid, for 40-50 minutes, to make a stock.
Remove the garlic from the roasting tin. Peel the cloves, squeezing the creamy flesh out of its skin. Set half aside.
Make the aioli: crush the remaining roasted garlic to a paste, then add a pinch of salt and an egg yolk. Beat in groundnut or vegetable oil, slowly at first, a few drops at a time, then introduce the olive oil. It is ready when thick enough to spread with a knife.
Sieve the stock, discarding the shells, vegetables and aromatics. Next, pour the stock into a blender, (taking care not to fill it more than half-way), add the peppers and the reserved half of garlic, then blend to a smooth, thin purée. You will find you probably need to do this in two batches.
Pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then add the cod cheeks and prawns, lower the heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes until the cheeks are tender. Meanwhile, wash the clams in cold running water and check each one for any cracks in the shell, discarding any that are open or refuse to close when tapped on the side of the sink. Be scrupulous about this. Add the clams to the soup, cover with a lid and leave for 5-6 minutes until the clams have opened.
Serve with the croûtes (for method see introduction to recipe) and aioli.
Strawberry hazelnut shortbreads
Makes 6, with extra biscuits for later
caster sugar 50g, plus extra to sprinkle
shelled hazelnuts 80g, finely ground
plain flour 120g
orange zest of 2 small
double cream 350ml
apricot jam 6 tbsp
For the hazelnut crumble:
skinned hazelnuts 50g
caster sugar 1 tbsp
In the bowl of a food mixer, beat the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the hazelnuts, flour and zest of 1 orange and mix thoroughly. Shape lightly into a ball, cover with greaseproof paper and chill for 20 minutes.
Make the crumble: halve the hazelnuts using a heavy knife. Put them into a shallow pan over a moderate heat and let them brown evenly, occasionally shaking the pan. As they brown, sprinkle over the sugar and let it melt. When the sugar has started to caramelise and the nuts are glossy, tip them out on to a tray to cool.
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Roll the pastry out (I do this in 2 batches) and use an 8.5cm cookie cutter to cut out 12 biscuits. Place them on a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with caster sugar. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until they are golden. Allow to settle for a few minutes before lifting them on to a cooling rack.
Lightly whip the cream. Spread 1 tbsp of jam on to each of 6 of the biscuits. (Keep the remaining 6 for later.) Put a generous amount of cream on each biscuit, then cut the berries in half and place them on the cream. Grate over a little more orange zest, scatter with the caramelised hazelnuts and serve.
The Observer aims to publish recipes for fish rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide
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