Ian McEwan's Fish Stew from "Saturday"

Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors and I like him even better for making my job easier. This recipe is his, from his novel "Saturday". I won't tell you the plot, but a man has a very, very bad Saturday indeed. Not even this simple and delicious fish stew would comfort him at the end of it, but it will you for a good, an ordinary, or perhaps a chilly Saturday.

Ian McEwan's Fish Stew
Note: Where quantities are not stated, trust your instincts or desires.

Into a stockpot of boiling water (a litre or more), put the bones of three skates (or other boned fish) with heads intact. If you have no obliging local fishmonger, use a pound or more of white fish.

Add a dozen or so mussels to the stock. Simmer for twenty five minutes.

Meanwhile, strip and chop three onions and eight fat cloves of garlic.
Soften over a low heat in a casserole with a lot of olive oil.
When they've melted sufficiently, add:

    a couple of crushed red chillies
    a pinch of saffron
    some bay leaves
    orange-peel gratings
    five anchovy fillets
    two cans of peeled tomatoes

When these have blended together in the heat add a quarter bottle of white wine. Then strain off the stock and add to the casserole.

Simmer the mix for twenty minutes.

Rinse and/or scrub the clams and remaining mussels and place in a bowl.
Cut the monkfish tails into chunks and place in a separate bowl.
Wash the tiger prawns and add to the monkfish bowl.
Keep both bowls refrigerated until ready to cook.

Just before dinner, reheat the casserole.

Simmer the clams, monkfish, mussels and prawns in the casserole for ten minutes.

Eat the stew with brown bread, or garlic bread, salad and a hearty red wine.

The End

You can substitute cod or another firm fleshed white fish for the monk fish. You can also make the  tomato-stock mixture a day ahead and reheat to add the fish. Its flavours benefit from the wait. You needn't add every single seasoning. I omitted saffron which I don't like, but I love the orange peel flavour. 

"Labor Day" Peach Pie

I admit I haven't actually seen the movie Labor Day with Kate Winslet nor read the book by Joyce Maynard.  But I know there's a peach pie-making scene. That's reason enough to include this scrumptious recipe, before peaches are only a happy summertime memory. 

8 peaches, ripe but not mushy, cut into chunks

Toss with:

3/4 cup sugar 

1/4 cup flour

1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 Tablespoons butter


2 2/3 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

Sift together.  

Combine with:

1 stick butter, chilled and cut into sugar-sized cubes

1/2 cup chilled lard or shortening, cut into sugar-sized cubes

Add to a food processor and blend until coarse crumbs form. 

Remove to a bowl. 

Add 1/2 cup chilled water and blend until a dough forms.

Knead quickly three or four times.

Roll out into two disks, cover, and chill for half an hour minimum to overnight. 

Roll out bottom and place in a pie plate.

Add the peaches.

Add the top crust and seal.

Pierce top with a fork a few times. 

You can add an egg wash or cut out crust shapes if you want to make a prettier pie. 

Place on a baking sheet, as the juices may bubble over.

Bake for 30 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to 375 and cook for 40 minutes longer. 

You can cover the edge of the pie with tin foil to protect it from overbrowning if desired. 

Serve with vanilla ice cream. Mmmm.

Little House Dried Blackberries

I'm not alone in absolutely loving the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My daughter is not at that reading level just yet, but soon she will be and I expect she'll become a Laura-phile too. 

While researching this post, which was meant to be a couple of blackberry projects,  I came across something that completely surprised and delighted me. Laura Ingalls Wilder, daughter of the prairie, lived in San Francisco with her daughter Rose at 1019 Vallejo, the gorgeous Willis Polk shingle on the very top of Russian Hill. I used to live in another historic house right around the corner and now the former Wilder haunt is walking distance from my current house. Laura came to visit Rose, see the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and to look around farm country to see whether she and Almanzo would sell their profitable farm in Missouri and come to California to farm. We could have had Little House on Russian Hill  (well, big house actually) and Little House in the (Santa Clara) Valley! Laura loved San Francisco, but didn't wish to live in a city and she finally determined that California was just too hot, she and Manly would stay in Missouri. I was going to do two Laura "recipes" but now I'm instigating Little House month and will include recipes Laura learned in San Francisco from the booths at the Pan-Pacific Expo!

Drying blackberries is perfect summer craft for your beginning reader. It teachers your youngsters how people preserved food to eat all year long when they couldn't just walk to the grocery store and get anything at anytime. 

Go to the market, the farmer's market, or go picking yourself. In San Francisco the blackberries are in full force in August. There used to be so many more places to pluck the berries, but with the thriving San Francisco economy and subsequent building boom, vacant lots and greens spots once rife with the summery scent of blackberries are now million dollar condos.  

For my San Franciscan readers, march your children up the hill to 1019 Vallejo to show them where Rose and the Laura lived, then collect some blackberries from the Presidio or China Beach or Real Foods. 

Wash the berries.

Pick out any squishy ones.

Place on paper towels or cheesecloth over a cooling rack over a baking sheet. 

Place in a sunny spot for several days. 

If you live in San Francisco, sun will be scarce for the next few weeks. And you can't fog dry berries! Do exactly the same, but put the berries in the oven on lowest heat and dry out for a few hours. 

The dried (not very sweet ) berries can be used for snacking, inclusion in trail mix or granola, to make a cobbler or pemmican, next week's recipe. 

Are any there Iranian comedies? Maybe they just don't get shown abroad. "Chicken with Plums" has a few amusing moments, but don't worry, it's really a deeply sad parable. A violinist pines after a long lost love, remaining indifferent to his loving wife and children. And worse, he can't enjoy his favorite dish, the Persian standby, chicken with plums. 

But you will...and so easy to make.

Traditionally, dried plums or prunes are used for this recipe and you can certainly use them, but now that it's plum season try fresh. Raid the market, shake the tree. If the plums are very sweet or very sour, adjust the honey accordingly. 

1 1/2 fresh pitted plums, or dried 

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 whole cloves

the juice and zest of one lemon

2 cups chicken broth, or water is ok 

4 whole chicken legs

one onion peeled and diced

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.

Heat the olive oil in a casserole.

Brown the legs and onion.

Remove from pan.

Add the other ingredients, except the plums and bring to a boil. 

Add the plums. 

Return the onion and chicken to the pot. 

Cook, covered for an hour.

Serve with Persian rice, couscous, plain rice, or quinoa. All are good. 

Tonnata Sauce from "The Dinner"

Herman Koch's "The Dinner" is a best selling book about parenting. But it's no explanation of fun ideas for family meals. Rather it's a chilling story of family dynamics, politics, modern eating pretensions, and murder. The setting is Holland but it could be anywhere. A Dutch film by the same name was made recently and Cate Blanchett is supposedly going to direct an English version.

Two brothers and their wives go to a fancy restaurant to eat delicacies while discussing a matter of extreme delicacy. The loathing the narrater has for his waiter and how he describes the meal and all the current culinary obsessions in detail is very funny. Some of the foods they enjoy are pink champagne, sweetbreads and chanterelles, vitello tonnato, "homemade" blackberries with chocolate shavings and many more.

We're not going to make vitello tonnata because I live in California and you can barely find the veal to make the dish. I use pork tenderloin. Although Marcella Hazan might spin in her grave, I use the tonnata as a sauce to make a lunch or picnic dish of roasted pork tenderloin, hardboiled eggs, and an array of vegetables. I served this as a Mother's Day lunch while the dads took the children away...Bliss.

Tonnata Sauce

2 tins tuna, high quality, preferably Italian

extra virgin olive oil

gourmet mayo (this would make Marcella Hazan jump right out of her grave)

3 to 5 anchovies, optional 

3 tablespoons capers

3 tablespoons lemon juice and zest of lemons 

salt and pepper

Blend the tuna, capers, lemon juice, zest and anchovies til smooth. Add the mayo and blend until just combined. If too thick you can add olive oil. Season, being careful about the salt.

Pork Tenderloin

Rub with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roast at 450 for 20 minutes.

Vegetable ideas:


small tomatoes

eggs, boiled and peeled and sliced or quartered

snow peas, lightly blanched

asparagus, lightly blanched

Bell pepper slices

Belgian endive

carrots, peeled and sliced

cucumbers, peeled and sliced

celery, peeled and sliced

Place everything on a platter or individual plates and let diners serve themselves the sauce.

This makes a great sandwhich spread as well!

'Tis the season for apricots, so I include this simple recipe inspired by a mention of Apricots a la Portuguese in Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector. Part of the story is about a young woman who collects cookbooks but doesn't actually cook nor live her life fully in other ways.  

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup port

1/4 cup honey

1 cup dried apricots or if using fresh, pitted

A sprig of fresh or a light scattering of dried thyme

Pepper to taste

Add the ingredients in a saucepan and cook briefly until the apricots are tender and a syrup has formed. The dried apricots will take longer to soften. You can remove the fresh apricots from the sauce once they're tender and boil the remaining syrup a little until it is thick. Cool. Serve alongside pates or cheese with crusty bread or crackers. It's also good as a grown-up dessert sauce for ice cream, pudding, custard, or pound cake.