Posts Tagged ‘capers’

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Fish out of water

January 27, 2012

Our (almost) vegetarian adventure

Some of you already know about the culinary experiment I am forcing on Senor for February – the two of us are going veg for a month.

Last year it was Febfast, giving up the booze, which was a chore, to say the least. I expect to enjoy this February a whole lot more than last, for I have no doubt we will be eating very well indeed.

We’re trying out a version of vegetarianism for a few reasons, apart from my increasingly obvious lapsed-Catholic attachment to some annual ritual festival of denial – any other ex-Catholics out there with these weird lenten leanings?

First, I just want to see what it feels like to go without meat for a month, because I realised some time ago that I have never forgone meat (either red meat, or chicken, pork, bacon, chorizo, fish, seafood etc) for even one week, let alone a month. And even though I feel that we have cut down our meat consumption substantially, I took note of everything we ate while away last week – a holiday filled with delicious salads and veg dishes provided by excellent cooks – and realised that even then, not a day went by without some bit of animal flesh – fish, or ham, or chicken. So actually, the only thing we’ve really cut down on is red meat.

Second, I am hoping it will help us shift a few kilos of the blubber that returned rather insistently over the latter quarter of the year. As I said to Senor, I’ve never known a fat vegetarian, my eyes glazing over and mouth watering with images of all the butter and cheese (and organic ghee kindly delivered to our door by our friend Guy the other day!!) that we will be chowing down on. And then Senor most unhelpfully pointed out that we do know a couple of portly vegos, which sort of ruined my fantasy of the kilos dropping daily with zero effort on our part at all. But I still will be interested to see how it affects weight and general health and feeling of zinginess, to substitute meat with other things.

Third, I am keen to see what kind of a reboot my cooking repertoire receives from this change in routine. When I’m busy I, like most of us I’m sure, tend to fall back on the usual contenders for the evening meal – but this will force me to try new things and extend the range a bit, I hope. As well, one of the things I’ve always believed is that to make interesting, really flavoursome  veg food requires more effort than a meat diet does. And now I’m a full-time student (starting a PhD in Creative Writing, eek) I will be financially less well off but have more time and flexibility. If there is ever a time to do this, it’s now – in summer when salads are inspiring, when one doesn’t crave rich, stodgy food as I do in winter, and early in my studies when I can retain the illusion I have plenty of time to do everything.

Finally, there will be the nice fuzzy glow of knowing we’ve spared the lives of a few critters, but I can’t pretend that this is really high on the list of reasons. While in recent years I have thought a lot about my love of meat, and eating it has caused me guilt and unease, I have recently come to a position of moral acceptance that it’s okay to eat animals that have been humanely raised and which have not been made to suffer unnecessarily (hence shopping at Feather and Bone, and proper free range eggs and chooks and all that jazz that you probably all do as well). We’ve cut down a lot on red meat, as I’ve said, and become much firmer in a commitment to real free range pork and chicken (I think conventionally raised lamb and beef, in this country, have better lives than they do in wholly grain-fed operations like those in the US, and have better lives here than our pigs and chickens do, even accounting for beef being finished on grain), but we also try now to only buy red meat from either F&B for that reason. I do welcome any commentary on this, by the way, because I am always keen to hear more about ethical meat production.

All that said, and in noting that we’re only going veg, not vegan, we’re doing this with a few caveats in place.

The first and most important for me is that, while we’re telling all our friends and family about this trial and some have already booked us in for veg meals with them, we won’t be refusing meat at someone’s house if it feels rude to do so. Given that this is an experiment rather than a life choice, I won’t be imposing our vego status on our friends. And to me, conviviality and respect for the person who offers you food is as ethically important as respect for the life of an animal, as the fabulous Tammi Jonas has written about so eloquently here.  So there is bound to be the odd evening we eat a bit of meat rather than reject someone’s hospitality, though we’ll try as much as possible to minimise the chances.

Second – and this has no ethical basis whatsoever – I can’t give up anchovies. I just can’t. I love those little salty bombs as much as bacon, which I know I really will miss, for a hit of flavour in everything from chickpea salads to lamb roasts to onion tarts to antipasto. I completely accept the hypocrisy of feeling warm and fuzzy about a cow but not a fish, no matter how small. I hope I have never claimed to be free of hypocrisy (one of my favourite lines on hypocrisy is this, from the philosopher and psychologist Jonathan Haidt: “Stop smirking. One of the most universal pieces of advice from across cultures and eras is that we are all hypocrites, and in our condemnation of others’ hypocrisy we only compound our own.”  That came to me via Hal Herzog’s wonderful book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals).

So now, in honour of our beloved salty little fishy bombs, and in farewell to meat for a month, I offer you this recipe which includes anchovies. It’s a very slight adaptation of a Neil Perry recipe from Good Weekend some time ago, and it is excellent. He used blue eye trevalla but as there was none when I went to our local fish market I bought royal basa and it was good. That said, next time I would try harder to buy a more sustainable fish, given the bloody ethical minefield that seafood shopping entails (god it’s tiring, isn’t it?).

I added chickpeas and zucchini to this to make it a serious one-pan dinner of gorgeousness. I also used dried rather than fresh oregano (just a teaspoon). Highly recommended with or without those additions.

This will be the last fleshy recipe from me until March – but I hope to be posting at least a few updates of how we’re faring throughout vegetableFeb.

Neil Perry’s Roast blue-eye trevalla with fennel & olives

  • 1 bulb fennel, finely sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely sliced
  • 2 tablespoons oregano, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons thyme, chopped
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 red capsicum, finely sliced
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped (NP peels and deseeds, but I am too lazy for that and almost never do it)
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 6 anchovies
  • handful of olives
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 x blue eye trevalla fillets – we used basa, but any firm white fish fillet would work
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (I forgot this but it mattered not)
  • Additions: 1 can or equiv cooked chickpeas; 2 small zucchinis, chopped into 3cm lengths
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
  2. Toss fennel, onion, herbs, capsicum, tomato, capers, anchovies, olives, chilli flakes together in a roasting tin. Pour the wine in and roast for about half an hour, or until the vegetables are soft.
  3. Add the chickpeas and zucchini and return to oven for 20 minutes or so until zucchinis are just tender.
  4. Nestle the fish fillets into the mix, drizzle with a little more oil and return to the oven for about 10 minutes or until fish is just cooked.
  5. Remove tray from oven, leave to rest for about five minutes and then serve a fillet on each plate, topped with the vegetable mix, garnish with parsley and season.

Any of you ever done the vegetarian thing? I’m very interested to hear about it if you have, and if you still are, what kind of foods you missed when you first gave up meat – and if you went back to meat, what tipped your decision…

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Mission Impossible

September 11, 2010

When I made a version of Stephanie Alexander’s Crustless Silverbeet, Pine Nut & Olive ‘Tart’ for a friend recently, she recognised it instantly as a picnic favourite that her friend calls Impossible Pie. I have no idea what makes it so impossible, except the fact it’s basically a robust, chunky quiche without the pastry, which I guess leads to the cutseypie moniker. Whatever the reason, Impossible Pie has stuck  in our house, and it’s become a weekend lunch staple that easily feeds a gang of eight.

The original recipe is from this book here, which I still love to death. Stephanie’s version is entirely vegetarian, and very good too, but for omnivores  I have usually added a handful of chopped bacon or pancetta (for as the Empress is fond of saying, “there’s nothing in life that can’t be improved by bacon”). And I think next time I might sling in a few chopped anchovies too.

Speaking of vegetarians, I’ve been having a little Twitter discussion on the topic lately so look out soon for a post on how to make a vegetarian happy. And I’ve decided that as much as possible, from now on I’m including veg options for any recipes here, using this little green V symbol at the end.

Silverbeet Impossible Pie

  • 1 sizable bunch silverbeet
  • olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons chopped bacon / pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 black olives, pitted & roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rinsed capers
  • 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g natural yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • a little butter

Method

1. Wash silverbeet & separate stems & leaves.

2. Chop leaves into strips and stems into 1cm chunks.

3. Throw stems into simmering water for 2 mins, followed by the leaves for another 2 mins. Drain and cool under cold running water for a few minutes. Dry in a tea towel or salad spinner.

4. While silverbeet is blanching, toast pine nuts in a little oil until golden brown, then remove and toss into a large mixing bowl.

5. Saute onion and garlic with bacon or pancetta for a few minutes until bacon is crisp and vegetables are soft.

6. Pulse silverbeet a couple of times in a food processor to roughly chop a little more, then add to bacon mix and fry for a few more minutes.

7. Add the vegetables & bacon to the pine nuts in the large bowl, then add currants, olives and 4 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs. Season and leave to cool.

8. In another bowl, lightly whisk eggs and yoghurt together till well mixed, then add to silverbeet mix.

9. Lightly grease a glass or ceramic pie dish and coat the sides and base with the remaining tablespoon of breadcrumbs (add any leftovers to the mix), then plonk the vegetable mix in, top with the grated Parmesan and a few dots of butter.

10. Bake the tart in a moderate oven for 30-40 minutes or until it feels firm and the top is crisp.  Serve warm or cold with a green salad.

V: Just leave out the bacon

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Kitchen capers

August 2, 2009

capers2Regular visitors here will know that salt is one of my most particular friends. Hence a very close and loving relation to that friend is the humble caper, which surely must also be filed under essential ingredients.

The caper, I learn here, is the immature flower bud of the caper bush, Capparis spinosa. Either pickled in brine or preserved in salt, as you will all know very well, the caper is an essential zing thing for a great many dishes. I tend to go for the salted babies, although the briny version are just fine if you can’t get the salted ones. And I’ve just found this site about Australian capers, which are apparently even more intense in flavour than the imported ones, which can only be a good thing!

Capers seem to have some quite direct root into my memory, for some reason – must be the piquancy of that little flavour bomb that takes me instantly to a few great holiday food moments: a Rottnest Island picnic of sourdough slathered with creme fraiche, smoked salmon and capers with a squeeze of lemon; or a plate of roasted red pepper strips dotted with luscious capers in Greece … sigh.

pinenuts etc currants olives capersAnyhoo, I was reminded of the caper today because I made again the Neil Perry zucchini ‘lasagne‘ that uses the classic combo (Sicilian, I think?) of capers, breadcrumbs, red onion, pine nuts and currants, which looked soo beautiful together I had to take this snap before assembly.

Another easypeasy bit of capery goodness I make regularly is a little dollop to accompany panfried or barbecued fish fillets – some good creamy yoghurt with lots of chopped capers, very finely chopped soft-leafed herbs (coriander, basil, parsley), a smidgin of honey and an anchovy or two.

Now your turn: what do you do with capers that I should know about?