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So British


Italiano MA has been promising to make me his nonna’s version of tiramisu for years. He and French VS were due to come over for dinner last week, and I gently suggested that this might be the occasion, despite it being highly unusual for me to ask a guest to bring dessert. I suspected that this one wouldn’t disappoint.

As they are both mad for London and all things British, I decided to offer a suitably national dish to counter the Italian pud. Fish pie is, I think, about as British as you can get, and something which very few people in France seem to have ever eaten. Unthinkable, I know. Rakishly slim VS seems to be on a permanent (wine based) diet, so I wanted to avoid anything too heavy, especially knowing what was to come. My fish pie is lighter than a classic version - I use a celeriac topping and I poach the fish in fish stock rather than milk, adding just a touch of crème fraiche instead. As hoped, it was a first for everyone and went down a treat.

For nibbles I made some parsnip and beetroot chips, sticking with the British theme. They’re a little fiddly to make, but delicious. Not for a dieter, as VS pointed out, slurping down his wine.

I was looking forward to comparing MA’s tiramisu to my own, which is also a hand-me-down from a different Italian nonna. I think the nonnas in question might have been related, because it was pretty much identical. Phew. He’d added one new ingredient, lemon juice, which his eighty year-old Italian singing teacher had recently told him was essential. Apparently this is a regular feature of their singing lessons – “What are you cooking tonight? What’s your recipe? No, no, no, not like that. You’ve got to add…” All accompanied by wild hand gesticulations and a high soft palette.

We finished off the entire bowl, and DS made his own national contribution by getting out the vodka for a little digestif at the end of the night. (Russian) Standard.

If you wanted to stick with the British theme, I'd suggest rhubarb Eton mess as the right dessert.

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Et en français...


Vegetable crisps

Serves 6, takes 30 minutes

starter / not too tricky / quietly smug / vegetarian / winter / autumn / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / date night / on a budget

Colourful and crispy, no-one should be pretending these are a healthy snack. I wouldn’t do them for many more than six people as they’re a bit fiddly.

* Parsnip – 2, scrubbed clean

* Beetroot – 1, scrubbed clean

* Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Using the slicing attachment on a blender or a mandolin, very finely slice the vegetables. Toss them in a few glugs of olive and season with plenty of sea salt. Add paprika or finely chopped rosemary for some extra seasoning.

Lay out the vegetable slices on baking sheets – ideally you shouldn’t have any overlap, but this takes a bit of patience.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, turning the veg half way through cooking. Make sure to watch them towards the end of the cooking so they don’t burn.

Remove the trays from the oven and leave the chips to cool for about ten minutes before placing in a serving bowl.

Fish pie with celeriac mash

Serves 6 - 8, takes about an hour, plus oven time

main / not too tricky / quietly smug / gluten free / autumn / winter / spring / fish

This is really more of a dense fish stew with a celeriac topping rather than your traditional creamy pie, but is DELICIOUS none the less. If you’re making this in advance, you can do everything up till the final oven baking. The pie will keep fine in the fridge for a couple of days.

Notes on the ingredients:

Fish – this pie is all about the fish, funnily enough. I put in a mixture of whiting filets, cod steaks, coley steaks and prawns, as that was what was available in the market that day. You can use any kind of white fish or salmon, but try and find sustainably caught fish if you can. Smoked haddock is popular, and would give you a smokier, saltier pie. If you buy fish filets and shelled prawns, the whole process is a little less fiddly. On the other hand, you don’t get the bonus of being able to make your own stock for the next time around with the left over shells and bones. See next point.

Stock – Getting into the habit of making stock is a pretty important step towards kitchen efficiency and thriftiness, and isn’t really any extra effort once you get used to it. I’ve already shared this video about how to use vegetable off-cuts to make veggie stock. This week, I decided to make fish pie partly because I already had some fish stock in the fridge. We’d had chinese steamed prawns for dinner a few days earlier, so I boiled up the left over shells and heads. Alternatively, if you ask at a fishmonger, they will often be able to give you bones and off-cuts, which you can use to make up a batch. Boil everything up for twenty minutes in a litre of water and then strain.

* Assorted fish – 700g

* Prawns – 300g, peeled

* Fish stock – 1 litre

* Butter – about 50g

* Fennel – 1 bulb, finely diced

* Leek – 1 large, sliced

* Parsley – a small bunch, chopped (leaves and stalks)

* Marsala, white wine or sweet vermouth – a dash

* Salt – ½ tsp

* Crème fraiche – a few tablespoons

* Lemon – juice of 1

* Celeriac – 1 large or 2 small

* Nutmeg – a few grinds

In a large casserole dish bring the stock to a very low simmer. Place the fish (and the prawns, if using raw) in the stock and poach until just cooked through. The prawns will only take a couple of minutes and the fish timings will depend on how thick your pieces are, so keep an eye on them. Remove each piece of fish once it is cooked with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour the stock into a separate bowl and set aside as well.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, if you’re planning to serve the pie straight away.

In the same casserole dish, fry the fennel, leek and parsley stalks in a generous knob of butter along with the dash of booze. You can leave the pan, covered, over a low to medium heat for about twenty minutes, or until the vegetables are nice and soft.

Meanwhile, cook the celeriac. Scrub clean with a vegetable brush and remove any stringy bits. Chop into rough chunks and boil in plenty of salted water for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, then return to the pan along with the remaining butter, nutmeg and a crack of pepper. Blend until smooth using a hand blender, or pop the whole lot into a mixer. Check for seasoning and add more butter if you like.

When the fish is cool enough to handle, carefully remove any bones with your fingers. Keep them to make stock (along with any prawns shells) for next time. Break the fish up into large flakes.

Add the salt, crème fraiche, lemon and some black pepper to the fennel and leeks, and stir to combine. Then stir in the stock. Finally, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the fish and prawns.

Spoon the celeriac puree on top of the fish in an even layer. Use a fork to make pretty patterns on the top. Bake in the oven for twenty minutes, or until piping hot and golden brown on top.

Serve with steamed green vegetables or a green salad. I went for broccoli, as I like mopping up the sauce with the florets.


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