Basque hake with clams

I have a confession – I don’t like fish. It didn’t use to be this way!! There was a time when sardines or seabass, a plate of oysters or mussels filled me with joy. Then I got pregnant and it all changed. Suddenly, and sadly ever since, I am one of those people who say they don’t like fish because it’s ‘fishy’.

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Lexie loves fish. Lewis loves fish. My mum is from the Basque coastline near San Sebastian where seafood reigns supreme. For their sakes I’m trying to like fish again! I’ve made some headway with seafood. There is no way on earth I could stomach a mussel or oyster right now but I have started eating crab.

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One of my favourite fish dishes used to be hake with clams and parsley. This is a staple of my family, especially my beautiful cousin Maite Miren and I always have it when I visit the Basque country. Hake is incredibly popular over there but very common in the waters around the UK. It’s mostly shipped to Spain which is a tragedy because it’s fantastic. Here is a photo of Maite with her two gorgeous daughters Sara and Andrea. I have no idea why they are so pouty in this photo so here’s a jollier pic of them with my other cousin Olatz (also beautiful!) during the famous ‘Carnavales de Tolosa’ (a week of fiestas before Easter, on the first Friday night the whole town buries a sardine at midnight, the next morning they dance la Diana around town and so on for a week… all in fancy dress!).

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If anything is likely to cure me of my fish phobia this is it so Maite sent me her recipe. Lexie and I bought top quality hake fillets from Applebees, the best fishmongers at Borough market (we also shared one of their delicious prawn wraps). Then we bought Palourde clams from the popular fishmongers in the middle of the market as Applebees didn’t have any.

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The verdict: this recipe is delicious… if you like fish! It’s very simple, the flavours are subtle so the hake and clams are the the stars of this dish. This is Lewis favourite style of Basque cooking. He’s not a fan of the mayonaisy/bechamely style of tapas that are also very popular. Lexie also loved it though I left the clams out for her, I’m not quite sure why. I liked the clams and the hake was cooked to perfection BUT it just tasted fishy!!!

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Hake with clams

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5-10 mins
Budget: £15-20 – good quality fish costs lots of money (£13 hake, £4 clams, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: medium – there is a knack to cooking fish well that must be learnt by experience even though the recipe is simple
Serves 3

  • Hake fillets or steaks (fillets have no bones so better for kids)
  • Clams – as many as you fancy
  • Olive oil
  • A little flour for dusting
  • Salt
  • Big handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1/2 white onion chopped
  • 2 big glasses of white wine

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Start by cleaning the clams. My cousin always gives them a bath in salty water ‘to make them feel at home’ she says, and to release any grit. Check all the clams and discard any that are open – they should be tightly sealed shut. Drain then add the clams to a pan with a glass of white wine and cover. Cook on a high heat until the clams have steamed open – 3-5 mins approx. Set aside reserving the liquid.

Gently fry the onion and garlic in a frying pan that will be big enough to take the fish fillets. Fry for 10 mins or until the onions have softened but not browned. Salt and dust the fish fillets with a little flour, turn up the hob to medium hot, then add to the onions with the skin side up. Add the clam liquid and some more wine – this recipe is poaching the fish in the pan, not frying it. Cook for 2-3 mins then gently turn and cook for another 2-3 mins. The sauce should be bubbling down and you may need to add a little fish stock or wine for more liquid if the fillets are thick or if the sauce drying up. At the last minute add the chopped parsley and clams y listo! My cousin recommends serving this with chunky chips and a hardboiled egg (I’m not sure if she means a finely chopped boiled egg to sprinkle on top – will check). Lewis hates boiled eggs so we omitted this and we made rice instead which was fine as there is a lot of sauce. I gave Lexie the fish with a little rice and sauteed courgette and she ate it all happily.

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A spring minestrone

There are buds on the magnolias and the garden is full of daffodils and crocuses – signs that spring is on the way! We have one back garden and access to two beautiful communal gardens and while I never managed to do any gardening last year, I did note down all the flowers that bloomed throughout the year. I’m filled with anticipation of what is to come.

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One of the gardens overlooks the old church, now an orchestra rehearsal and recording studio. When the weather is warm and the church windows open we get to hear the performance by the visiting orchestra of the day – the Royal Philharmonic, the English Symphony Orchestra to name a few. There are two ancient cherry blossoms and I cannot wait for them to bloom. Last year Lexie and I spent many an afternoon lying in their shade, reading books, having ice creams and, if we were lucky, listening to the orchestra’s music.

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Lexie really loves minestrone and, seeing as there was fresh chicken stock from Sunday’s chicken, I made a spring version with no tomato. It’s adapted from a Jane Grigson recipe that calls for spring greens and butternut squash as well as the usual potato, pasta and beans. If you haven’t heard of Jane Grigson she was born in 1928 and a protege of Elizabeth David. Her book Good Things is a classic – a celebration of the seasons and the foods they bring. I made this soup listening to some beautiful Debussy flute, daydreaming about endless days in the garden and all the flowers yet to bloom, the magnolia, the camelias then the glorious summer roses, agapanthus and chrysanthemums…

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Spring minestrone

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5-10 (£1 butternut squash, £1.50 leeks, £2.50 pancetta, £1 spring cabbage)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 sliced onion
  • 3 sliced leeks
  • 1/2 diced carrot
  • 1/2 stick celery chopped
  • 1 peeled and cubed potato
  • 1/2 butternut squash diced
  • 2 cloves garlic sliced
  • A large handful of spring cabbage, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 sticks of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • A handful of pasta
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Grated parmesan
  • Olive oil
  • Pancetta
  • Chicken stock

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Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery and cook on a gentle heat for 10 mins. Add the garlic, squash, potato and the bay leaf and thyme, pour in the stock and cook for 10 mins. Then add the spring cabbage and the pasta and cook for another 10 mins. In a separate pan fry the pancetta in a little olive oil and set aside when done. The minestrone should be ready and just before serving add the beans so they heat through. When it’s ready, garnish with the chopped parsley and pancetta and serve with grated parmesan and olive oil for drizzling.

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Rhubarb isn’t very Spanish and I was in my 20s the first time I had it. I think it was my mother-in-law who made me the most delicious rhubarb fool served with sable biscuits. This recipe is also hers – dreamy rhubarb baked with orange and ginger and served with vanilla ice cream. The perfect desert after a long Sunday lunch!

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Baked rhubarb with orange and ginger

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins in the oven or 15 mins on the hob
Budget: £5-10 (£3 rhubarb, 50p orange, £4 ice cream)
Ease: easy
Serves 4

  • 1 bunch of rhubarb, ends trimmed
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • A few chunks of peeled ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream

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Put the chopped rhubarb into a baking tray with the sugar, ginger and orange. Cover with foil and bake at 180 for 20-30 mins. Or you can cook covered on the hob for 10-15 mins. When it’s done the rhubarb should be all fluffy with a gorgeous red syrup. Remove the ginger and serve hot with scoops of vanilla ice cream!

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Globe artichoke with butter and lemon

I distinctly remember the first time I ate a globe artichoke. It was 2002 in Aix en Provence where I was living for 6 months as a student. Here’s a pic of me outside my wonderful studio flat! There are a gazillion things I loved about living there – the weather, the beautiful architecture, the beaches and countryside of Provence – and of course the wonderful food markets and bakeries.

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One week my cousin from Australia came to visit me and we duly perused the local market. She bought huge globe artichokes and cooked them so simply, with some melted butter and lemon to dip the leaves into. We ate the artichokes on my little rooftop balcony, watching the sun set with a bottle of Rose! La vie est belle!

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Yesterday I cooked a wonderful roast chicken for a big Sunday lunch with my mum – her first proper outing since a knee operation in January. I made Mimi Thorisson’s lemon, thyme and rosemary roast chicken and it was delicious – I highly recommend it! Mum and I love artichokes and, spotting them at the market, they were an obvious starter along with some asparagus.

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Globe artichoke with butter and lemon

Prep time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 (2 artichokes for £5)
Ease: easy
Serves 2-4

  • 2 globe artichokes
  • Half a pack of butter
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt

Place the artichokes in a deep pan, cover with water and boil for 20-30 mins until it’s easy to pull the leaves off. Just before serving make the butter sauce – melt the butter gently in a pan, add salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Drain the artichoke and serve alongside the buttery dipping sauce and a big bowl for the discarded leaves.

(In the pic below Lexie is protesting that she wants to start eating NOW!!)

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Simple asparagus tapas

My family is obsessed with asparagus. In fact I think the whole of the Basque country is obsessed. Whenever we have big family dinners there’s always a plate of asparagus as an appetiser, it’s always in the bars – the ubiquitous green vegetable. If it’s a special occasion, like Christmas, we have delicate white asparagus served with langoustines and mayonnaise – divine! I’m very very happy that my daughter loves asparagus too!

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Here is a super simple and traditional way to serve a tapas of asparagus! This is my go-to starter for all meals with friends and family – I made it recently as a starter for friends before crab linguine, and yesterday as a starter before a delicious roast chicken (I made Mimi Thorisson’s rosemary, lemon and thyme roast chicken – I highly recommend this recipe!). It’s great with other tapas – jamon, boquerones, Spanish tortilla, garlic mushrooms, pan tumaca etc.

I just have to add, having written asparagus a few times now, it is totally one of those words the more you write it, the weirder it becomes! Is it really spelt like that etc!?! Apparently it derives from a latin word that derives from a greek work that derives from the Persian ‘asparag’ meaning to sprout or to shoot! There you go!

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Asparagus tapas

Prep time: 1 min
Cooking time: 5mins
Ease: Easy

  • 1 bunch of green asparagus, rinsed and ends trimmed
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Place the asparagus in a wide pan and cover with water. Parboil for a few mins depending on thickness. Drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in the same pan on quite a high heat, add the asparagus and sprinkle with salt. Fry for a couple of mins then you can shake the pan a bit or turn the asparagus with a fork. Add a generous squeeze of lemon and after a couple more minutes they should be done. Sometimes I cook asparagus on a really high heat and blacken some of the sides, other times I lightly fry them – they are pretty versatile!

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Pork chops with lemon and baked rosemary garlic potatoes

Finally, after what feels like months of rain, we are getting some bright blue skies. I’m still dreaming of escaping London… This time it’s long walks in the countryside and afternoons in front of the fire. Over the Christmas holiday we stayed with friends in their amazing Tudor home in Hampshire. We walked back from the pub across fields in the pitch black, awoke to a bright frosty morning and visited the neighbouring horses, meandering along a magical river. Tammy, our host, had a great way to keep toddlers happy on the long walks – luckily the toy fairy and the chocolate fairy were two steps ahead of us at all times leaving Max and Lexie little gifts under rocks and leaves!

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Tammy also prepared the most wonderful glazed ham with delicious sliced roast potatoes and onion for a lunch (with champagne!). I’ve been thinking about those potatoes ever since and wondering when to try them. A special deal on pork chops at my favourite butchers provided the impetus. Remembering how uplifting it was when I roasted lemon, garlic and rosemary potatoes – the incredible smells of lemon and herbs that filled our kitchen – I decided to do a take on these flavours. Not the same as a long walk in the countryside but pretty cheering nonetheless. The pork is a River Cafe recipe and the potatoes were inspired by Tammy’s using this recipe. The star of this dish was definitely the potatoes – they were amazing! The pork chop was nice but I preferred the gammon by a mile (I’m not crazy about pork chops or fillet in general – love pork belly, love ham, love bacon!).

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Pork chops with lemon and rosemary garlic potatoes

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Budget: £10-15 (£5 pork chops, 60p lemons, £1.50 herbs, £1.50 potatoes)
Ease: easy

  • 2 Pork chops
  • 1 lemon quartered
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 stick rosemary – leaves removed and chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 3 potatoes – washed and sliced into 4 mm rounds, skin on

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Preheat the oven to 200/gas mark 6. Put the potatoes in a baking tray with a generous amount of olive oil, season and add the rosemary and garlic. They should take about 30 mins to roast, check them half way and turn.

Get a griddle pan (or heavy bottomed pan) and heat until smoking. Season the pork and smooth a little oil on both sides. Seal the meat on both sides, 2 mins per side then place in a baking tray with the lemon quarters. Squeeze one of the lemons on the pork and pop in the oven for 5 mins. After 5 mins take the meat out, baste and squidge the lemon quarters into the meat. Depending on the thickness of the pork they should take another 5-10 mins to cook but err on the side of caution and try only 5 mins first. Once done, let the meat rest covered in foil for a few minutes before serving with the potatoes and maybe some nice dijon mustard. (The reason the skin is off in the pic below is because I attempted this Jamie Oliver crackling tip – it was a failure!)

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Basque piperade with eggs

There are so many nights when I still don’t know what to make us for dinner. Yesterday was another day where the fridge was bare and it was too late to pop to the shops. The only fresh ingredients I had were eggs and some peppers.

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Omelettes never feel very substantial and scrambled eggs on toast I reserve for when I’m completely out of time. Egg fried rice was an option but I kept thinking about a recipe for baked eggs with tomato and chilli my friend Dani recommended. I didn’t have chilli but was reminded of Basque piperade – a tomato sauce with peppers – that I did have the ingredients for.

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Piperade goes with lots of things – cod, chicken – but in our family we always had it with rice and fried eggs. My mum made this for me a lot growing up but I associate it more with my aunty Consuelo, herself a mother of 5. My mother Carmen, Consuelo and their little sister Feli were known as the Brigitte Bardot sisters such was the resemblance – three blonde bombshells! (See the pic above – my mum is in stripes with Consuelo behind her – I need to find some more pics of them!). They are wonderful cooks, even now they are in their 80s with arthritis ravaged fingers, the food they produce is incredible (I’ve a vivid memory of watching my aunty last year expertly joint a chicken with a machete and she still pulls off a 6 course Christmas dinner for 15!!).

This is a tasty recipe that’s quick and easy to make and very cheap. I’ve used my mum’s recipe with no paprika or pimenton (spicy paprika) because we don’t really like the smoky taste. I’ve asked my cousin to send me my aunty’s version which I’ll add here when it arrives and another time I’ll share a very similar recipe for courgette or marrow that is just wonderful. Lexie loved it – she loooves fried eggs so much so anything that is a vehicle for them goes down well with her.

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Basque piperade with eggs

Serves 4
Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 20-30 mins
Budget: £5 (£1.80 eggs, £1.50 peppers, £1.50 parsley)
Ease: easy

  • 1 or 2 tins of whole plum tomatoes
  • 1 white onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of chopped garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • Rice
  • 4 eggs
  • A little sunflower oil – the amount you use to fry eggs, we use quite a lot

Put enough rice on to cook for 4 people. I use the cup method – one cup of rice to two cups of water, stir once, bring to the boil then cover and reduce the heat, leave simmering for 10 mins. Check the rice is done and if it is then turn the heat off and cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel with the pan lid on top to seal it tightly shut. My Spanish flatmate taught me this – apparently the tea towel helps absorb moisture. Even without a tea towel it’s good to let the rice rest off the heat for another 10 mins and it will sit happily for longer, steaming away making the rice all perfect. Another very Spanish way to cook rice is to fry a bit of chopped garlic in olive oil in the saucepan, then adding the dried rice and tossing it about in the oil before adding the water then cooking as above.

While the rice is cooking, heat a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan (i.e. Le Creuset). Add the onion and a little salt and fry gently for 10 mins. You can make a piperade with a sofrito base (slow cooked onion for ages) but traditionally all the veg is cooked quickly and retains a bit of bite which I prefer. Add the peppers and garlic then fry for another 5 mins. Then add 1 tin of tomatoes or 2 sieved tins of tomatoes according to preference (in Spain we always sieve tinned tomatoes), add the bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a tsp of sugar and bubble away for a few minutes. Bring the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 20 mins or until you are happy with the sauce. Add a little water or wine or stock if it’s drying out. 5 mins before you want to serve it add the fresh parsley.

Around the time you add the parsley start cooking your eggs. I can manage 2 at a time, no more than that so do batches – kids first for example so their meal can cool a little while you cook yours. Our method is to heat some sunflower oil to a high temperature (but not spitting) in a non-stick frying pan with one peeled garlic clove. Break the egg into the frying pan and reduce the heat immediately – it should sizzle when it hits the pan and the white should bubble up. Salt then fry until you are happy with it, baste with a bit of the oil if you like. Discard the garlic! It’s only there to flavour the oil.

To serve we’ve always put the rice and sauce separately on a plate with the fried egg on top and some fresh baguette or white bread to dip into the egg and mop up the delicious juices!

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