sea bream with tomatoes and basil

it’s all gone a bit good life around here.

or as good life as you can get when you live in a one-bed ex-council flat in islington.

a few months ago, at the suggestion of lovely clare from downstairs, we applied for a grant from the council to build some raised beds and grow food. this admirable idea is all about improving shared spaces, getting neighbours together and, of course, planting some stuff to eat. not bad considering the last time we got together was to go to court to kick out a bunch of scratty junkies from the crack den downstairs.

so, we have our raised beds (i still feel guilty for not helping to build them but it was in the run up to the wedding), we bought some seeds and, after a few weeks, stuff know...GROWING. like green stuff. lots of it.

people have gone for different things in their beds – there are lots of strawberries, vast quantities of salad, and one brave soul is growing aubergines. i’ve gone for the simple approach, not wishing to see stuff die on me in my first attempt at gardening – half a bed for carrots, spring onions and radishes - just to see what happens, half for a courgette (and one in a pot – blackfly permitting, i’m determined to eat those damn flowers this year and not pay £2 for a paltry little tray from the farmer’s market), leaving two beds free to indulge in my obsession for leafy green stuff. so we have spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, curly kale and purple sprouting broccoli. and why not – it’s good for you and it costs a fortune in shops. plus, considering the amount of effort involved in growing it, i don’t understand why anyone with a bit of space doesn’t do it.

we’ve had spinach whizzed into a soup, we’ve had a nicely dressed lettuce and radish salad, we’ve had some curly kale stirred through an amazing tomato sauce...i know all of this amounts to about four dinners but the pleasure i’ve had out of it is immense.

anyway, in honour of that curly kale, here is the recipe for something i called the best dinner i’ve ever eaten the other day. we’ve made it twice in the last month, and i’d happily eat it again. it’s a bastardisation of a gennaro contaldo recipe – we’ve added more chilli (just because one chilli is never enough), and used passata rather than water for that extra sweet tomato kick.

don't be tempted to skimp on the olive oil - you need LOTS of it to give it a silky mouthfeel. it makes all the difference.

for two

two whole sea bream, cleaned
125ml olive oil
around 25 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
500ml passata
a big bunch of basil
salt and pepper

get the biggest frying pan you have and put it on medium heat. it needs to hold both fish, plus all the other stuff, unless you want to do this in two batches. which you don’t. a small frying pan will ensure your kitchen looks like the somme.

heat the oil with the garlic and chilli – don’t burn the garlic as it will taste rubbish. don’t burn the chilli either, or you won’t be able to breathe. trust me on this.

after a couple of minutes, add the fish and fry for a minute, then add the passata, the cherry tomatoes and half of your basil bunch, torn. season and leave to cook for around five minutes. turn the fish carefully and continue to cook for another five or ten minutes. check the fish is cooked – the flesh should be opaque. as it’s on the bone, it will take a little longer to cook.

if your sauce is too runny at the end of the cooking time, take the fish out and reduce the sauce for a few minutes. we don’t bother normally. stir in the greens until wilted (or serve on the side as on the picture – this has been made more than once) and the rest of the basil, check for seasoning and serve.


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