Feast of the Seven Fishes.

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The origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or Festa dei Sette Pesci, in Italian)can be traced back to early Roman times in Sicily. It was celebrated on Christmas Eve as an act of purification or cleansing to prepare for the birth. The feast can also be can also be called “La Vigilia di Natale” or the vigil. The Feast required people to abstain from meat and dairy.

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This is smoked mackerel, parsnip and leek soup in a porcini mushroom base, accented with thyme and bay leave. This was a great way to use up the end of the leeks from my garden.

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The notion of abstinance and anchovy’s together can seem like punishment to some people.

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But there is a school of thought which contends that the feast has its origins in ancient Egypt and the Nile. In which case, the feast is regarded as a festival of abundance. I think I prefer that particular aspect.

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This flatbread or focaccia is based on a traditional Apulian recipe using onion, anchovy, olives and rosemary. I used scallions instead  to brighten up the flatbread. The absence of dairy or cheese reminds me of the original Neapolitan pizzas. Though I try to use only New England fish species, these anchovies from Italy are the exception this year. The baby Jesus wept!

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Venice is well known for its seafood risotti. On this occasion, I traded in the butter that I would normally use to make a risotto and used grapeseed oil in its place. This crabmeat risotto includes carrot and both red and green chiles. The chiles are mild so as not to dominate and the carrot adds a sweet element. Because there is no egg employed to bind the rice cakes, they are very light and need an even lighter touch when it comes down to their handling.

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I like to carmelize a slice of lemon. I like the stronger, more robust lemony flavor added by keeping the lemon rind attached. Preserved lemon would also make an an attractive, simple garnish to accompany.

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Salting cod to preserve is a seasonal activity at this time of year. I like to make my own salted cod . I prefer it over what it available commercially. In fact, there is no comparison with the flavor. I like to use thyme from my garden, lemon zest and thinly sliced, whole dried cayenne pepper in the cure. I cure or dry the codfish for  up to four days.

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Polenta is another mainstay from the Veneto region in Italy. This is peasant food at it’s most simplest. Essentially, it is coarse cornmeal and water stirred together. I like to fry the polenta in grape seed oil. In my opinion, fried food never really tastes oily or greasy when using grape seed oil.

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Combining polenta and salt cod in tomato sauce is a classic pairing. It is even better when the tomatoes are ones that have been preserved from the summer. It is fair to say that I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil. All of the plates will be enhanced by drizzling, nay, pouring generously ……..lots of good quality oil over each plate  one to finish.

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One of the things I like to try to do for this menu is to try to include as much vegetables from my garden as possible. I saved the peas in the freezer and that’s why they get to be used. Berbere is a spice mix from Ethiopia.  It gets its color from ground up hot dried peppers and paprika.

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Seared sea scallops with pea puree, Ethiopian spices, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil.

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The nice thing about this menu is that you get to eat your favourite items. I love to combine fish and potatoes in any permutation. Add fennel and that leaves room for garlic and rosemary. The fish is scup, or porgie. It is a member of the sea bream family and  is fast becoming one of my favorite fishes to eat. For me, the advantages are that it is small/large enough to be cooked whole and it is relatively inexpensive. The fish can also yield two nice sized filets plus the bones to make fish stock. With this fish, you have options. Best of all, there are still lots of this fish left in the ocean and it is what we should be eating. It’s not farmed either.

 

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Pan fried potato crusted scup with fennel “confit”. If the number seven is regarded as the most perfect number, then at least I’m consistent in my imperfections. I cooked six courses. There is always next year again and plenty of fish to be cooked in the meantime. Thanks for reading and eat like a peasant.

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Radicchio, Finocchio and Pinocchio.

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A healthy garden is going to have lots of earthworms or nightcrawlers. This one reminds me of the science fiction movie, Dune, with the giant worms coasting through the desert. This one measures roughly nine inches which is nowhere near the size of the worms in Sting’s world.

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Thyme in bloom. This is one that comes back every year.

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I cut off the old growth radicchio and now have these fresh shoots. But it looks like it is spreading its roots under the ground. And that could be a problem later. I just don’t have the room. I want radicchio but not an overgrowth. It will have to relocated to live elsewhere. Or I could just dig it up and plant new seeds.

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What’s the story, morning glory?  Just germinated morning glorys. Hopefully, they will be colored blue.

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These pole beans are pioneers in a new experimental plot. They are called “Meraviglia di Venezia”. They are a yellow Romano type bean and I want them to grow at least 10 foot tall. This is my first time trying this variety out so I am very excited. But the reality is that I most likely will not see a pickable pole bean until the second half of July.

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These are little bright and shiny baby spinaches.

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At last, the onions are beginning to look like onions. In the meantime, there are scallions everyday and soon enough, garlic scapes.

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This is baby Florence fennel. Finnochio. It seems to be settling in nicely. The fennel fronds are developing nicely. Fingers crossed because they are company for the pole beans in the experimental plot along with kale and radicchio. I am not going to be the one who explains the Italian slang word “finocchio”.

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This is wild mountain fennel from Sicily. It just explodes out of the ground. I think it will grow to about 5 foot, maybe more, in my little garden. This one does not produce a bulb but rather it attracts the honey bees. In fact, I try to gather the pollen for my own use in the kitchen at home. And afterwards, I gather up all the seeds. The fennel pollen flavors up my fish cooking at home. It is an essential ingredient in the classic Roman porchetta. I like to grind the fennel seed and combine it with sea salt for fennel salt for use as a table condiment or seasoning. And that’s just for starters.

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I am not too sure what this is. It could be a melon, a zucchini or courgette or a pumpkin. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a surprise and if it does not grow, well, then that’s the surprise. Let’s go have supper.

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These Massachussets sea scallops are whats for supper. They will sit in a quick marinade while the grill gets hot. I got them from Red’s Best at South Station farmers market in Boston. In my humble opinion, Red’s Best sells, arguably, the freshest fish in town. This is what makes fish cooking exciting. I was able to use rosemary from my garden in the marinade.

 

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About the only way these scallops could taste better would be if they had been threaded onto a rosemary skewer. Thanks for reading and looking. Eat like a peasant.

A Fish Cook

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Have some potato soup on this freezing night to warm you up. Taste a potato again for the first time and let me tell you what it is you need to know about fish. For the next time you go shopping.

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Cookbooks will generally classify fish in three ways. First, is the fish from salt-water or fresh water, the ocean or a river or lake, say. Is it a mako shark or a pike?
Second, is the fish oily or non-oily. Oily fish include the likes of anchovies, salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout and herrings. Examples of non-oily fish are hake, pollock and monkfish.

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And thirdly, is the fish flat or round. Flatfish species include sole, flounder, dab, turbot and halibut. Species of round fish are cod, bass and grouper. And let’s not at all forget shellfish.

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Dinner thus far: Coarsely pureed potato soup with little chunks. Because it is frigid outside, I added some Allepo pepper for some warmth. The pepper is named after a town in Syria. Next up were some skillet seared sea scallops seasoned with rosemary, chili flakes and chunks of sea salt. Once roasted, all they need is some lemon juice and olive oil.

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There is another method of classification that the books do not really get into and that is economics.

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Economics. Fish is expensive. Personally, I do not want to buy fish that has been flown in no matter how good it is. No New Zealand green lip mussels, no Chilean sea-bass, no squid from China. No jet-fresh sardines from Europe.

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If it is true to say that are costly fish which might even be called “luxury fish”, there are plenty of others that will give the simple home cook brilliant opportunities for first-class dishes.

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Another way to classify fish…….do you really need it or can you get by. Sometimes, I get in the mood for fish, go to buy and it looks like, well………I walk on by. And do without.

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My attitude and philosophy is buy the absolute freshest fish you can. And treat it simply. Simple cooking is perhaps the highest form of sophistication and will never go out of style or vogue.

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Simple cooking is that moment when you are being served at a restaurant, the calmness that envelopes the table. Actually, that serenity is brought on by the fore knowledge of the impending cliff of your dinner tab.

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Tonight’s supper was all New England seafood. For the sole fillets I made the breadcrumbs from scratch and seasoned them with salt, black pepper, chili pepper flakes, oregano, parsley, garlic and lemon zest. The lemon probably has a high carbon foot-print. No Scurvy here. My vegetable sides were sauteed kale and Macomber turnips. Macomber turnips are a big local favorite here in Massachussets. They are originally  from the town of Westport, Mass and named after the Macomber brothers.Thank you for looking at my cooking efforts.