The thing I don't get about the way that people, in general, don't eat enough fish, is that recipes for fish dishes are generally incredibly simple. Obviously there are many lovely easy peasy things to create in the kitchen, but I personally think that fish is one foodstuff in particular where minimal input on the ingredients and effort front yields disproportionately high levels of tastiness. For the most part I tend to pop a little something on top, bung it in the oven for about ten minutes and then tuck in. A creature of many well-entrenched habits, most of them fattening, I tend to revert, with coma-inducing frequency, to my old reliable tomatoes and olives swirled around in a bit of pesto topping. But this blog would end quite abruptly if I were to trundle along in my boring old ways without giving something new a go every now and then. On the trawl for something speedy and fishy that I could bung very quickly in the oven on a hungry Friday evening after catching a movie at the Dublin Film Festival, I reached for my Tom Doorley book, Grow And Cook, and instantly happened on the perfect fish and side-veggie recipes for my needs - and, to add to the virtue of it all, perfectly within season in the February chapter.
This is such a beauty of a book. It really exudes a love of food and respect for the rhythms of nature, divided, as it is, into months of the year with recipes that are season-appropriate, and an accompanying chronicle of a family garden. There's something very gentle about this book; the recipes aren't all high falutin and feelings-of-inadequacy-inducing. They are a straightforward celebration of the fresh ingredients that they use and come with introductions that personalise them beautifully, as well as user-friendly anecdotes of where they fit into the family's food repertoire. There are tips galore for both cooking and gardening, in a very low-pressure, doing-it-for-the-love-and-satisfaction-of-it kinda way. It's one of those little gems that makes me proud to be Irish.
Staying in season with the February chapter, I went on the hunt for an accompanying veg, and decided to take the roast pumpkin recipe and use butternut squash instead. I always do that, not only because I never see pumpkins on sale outside of Halloween, but also because I have bad memories of a pumpkin mash that went wrong and have yet to return to it and redeem myself. I do love me some butternut squash, and in fact there is a delicious spicy roast squash recipe from a Jamie book that I must share very soon - it's magic in a risotto and also very flavoursome whizzed up into a soup. But look at it before it gets all of that chopping and flavouring and cooking; I just love the shape of it, that tall body and curvy wee bum, and then the hollow where you scoop out the seeds. Doesn't it look like cute cartoon people when it's cut in two? Mr and Mrs Squash. They're like something out of Mr Men.
Now, after all of that outpouring of love, I must say that there are two things that wreck my head a little about this butternut beauty. The first is that peeling it is somewhat torturous; it has a skin as thick as a deep-sea mammal, and I find the only way to really do it is to chop it up before you peel it. The other thing is slightly more surmountable, and that is the hideousness of undercooked squash. BLEUGH. With most veggies, a nice undercooking leads to crunchy, vitamin-preserving loveliness- not so with butternut squash. Undercooking it gives it a truly vile texture, that stays with you the way in the same way that a very bad taste does. Even thinking about it makes me shudder. Anyhow - if you are cooking it at home this is perfectly avoidable, just stick a fork into it to make certain that it is nicely done before serving. Cutting it into chunks of a similar size also helps.
Tom D says to preheat the oven to 200 degrees C, and once it is warm enough put in the squash tossed in olive oil, cumin seeds, dried thyme and dried oregano, as well as salt and pepper. This takes 30-40 minutes, so you can easily hold off on getting stuck into the fish end of things until the veg has been taken care of.
The fish topping is a gremolata, which is a mixture of lemon zest, garlic and parsley, and in Grow And Cook it is bulked up with some breadcrumbs. I used coriander instead of parsley, as I had a fair big lump of it in the fridge that needed using. I also added some sundried tomatoes that were going begging in the fridge. Faaaaaaar too lazy to pull out the food processor to make breadcrumbs, I just chopped up the bread a bit and delighted in the chunky texture of it.
So, smooshed together here we have some breadcrumbs, fresh coriander, sundried tomatoes, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Quantities? Whatevs, frankly; precision is for people with too much time on their hands! I just used what was to hand, and went on the basis of my own instincts and preferences in relation to how much of everything I would use.
So I made the squash scooch over in the dish and put in a sea bass fillet with this lovely mixture atop a seabass fillet. I had the squash in for about 25 minutes, and then gave it all another ten with the fish, so it was all done to perfection.
Crispy, herby, healthy (er, apart from the industrial quantities of olive oil I guess...) fast food, with serious substance.