sea bass with rocket

this is one of the last photos for the blog taken with an iphone. proper camera from now on, so hopefully the blog will look a bit better!

when i first started cooking anything other than student or deli food (you know what i mean – pasta and pesto, bagels with mozzarella, that sort of thing), i thought gennaro contaldo was pretty cool. this was before he became jamie oliver’s sidekick, appearing in tv programmes as an italian clown with a stupid hat and an incomprehensible accent.

in those pre-fame days, gennaro ran passione, a restaurant on charlotte street. i lived nearby, on the wrong side of euston road, and spent many a day hanging around fitzrovia. (now pointlessly renamed ‘noho’, this area is still where i’d still like to live. it’s weirdly quiet for somewhere so central, and it has lots of decent shops, pubs and restaurants. it’s a staggering distance from soho as well.)

passione was expensive – too expensive for what i was earning then. when i first started going out with rich, he promised he’d take me there as a birthday treat. but the year it was meant to happen, we managed to get spectacularly drunk the night before on beer and makers mark bourbon at some gig in borderline. that was no chance of ever making it out of the house: i was sick for much of the next day. the year after i had food poisoning from a pre-birthday lunch – chiefly remembered for the worst food i have EVER eaten in london and the fact i wore seethrough trousers (not deliberately; and the food was on top of st george’s hotel by the bbc on regent street. never trust a restaurant with a view, i’d say.).

we did finally make it there and thankfully, i was not disappointed despite the tiny little pinch of anti-climax which was unavoidable. i now think it taught me more about what i like eating – and making for other people – than most other places i’d been to until then. it was relatively simple food – in a way i think most italian food is, and there were no foams or jus or artfully arranged micro salads. it wasn’t an ‘experience’ – it was just food.

first thing i loved: every table had a glass of perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes on the vine. they brought out the olives and bread later but i loved those tomatoes – it seemed like such a perfect start to an italian meal. they were totally unadorned – no oil or salt – and they looked, smelt and tasted amazing. afterwards i thought they may have been decorative - i ate them all anyway.

i can’t remember what i had for starter – there may have been truffle oil involved – but for the main i had a big plate of pasta with some kind of ragu, possibly wild boar, which was the meatiest, most delicious plate of food i had eaten in my life. i think i had tiramisu for dessert, the logic being that you may as well try it when it’s made properly.

so, i loved passione. i wanted to go back but it closed a few years after. gennaro started appearing on telly and i bought the cookery book instead. it may in fact have been the second cookery book i have ever bought. i have cooked lots of things from it – i still use the panna cotta recipe, and i loved the limoncello ice cream. the steak ragu and gnocchi was pretty amazing, as was the aubergine parmigiana.

but then the cookery books multiplied, and i forgot about passione until recently. it may have been a search for a sea bream recipe that finally led me back to it (it’s here:

it was then that i also saw this recipe. it is really easy to make and tasted seriously delicious. no idea why, maybe it was a fluke but i’d recommend you try it just to check. i have departed from the original only in the frying of fish - in gennaro's original, the fillet is fried flesh-side down and the skin is then peeled off. madness, if you ask me - there are few things nicer than crispy fish skin. you could make this with bream or other similar fish.

serves 4

4 sea bass fillets
2 tbs olive oil
25g butter - a knob
4 tbs white wine
salt and pepper

for the sauce:
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
15g butter
3 anchovy fillets
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 medium courgette, finely chopped
300ml vegetable stock
200g rocket, roughly chopped

make the sauce first. heat the oil and butter in a pan and chuck in the anchovy fillets. cook, stirring, until they have dissolved in the oil. sounds weird but you will see it happen. add the shallots and the courgette and cook gently (i.e. don't brown) until the vegetables start to soften. add the stock, bring to the boil, simmer for a minute and then stir in the rocket. season with black pepper and cook just until the rocket's wilted - a couple of minutes, if that. turn the heat off, leave to cool a little and then whizz in a blender until smooth. return to the pan and stir over high heat with a wooden spoon until nearly all the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has become creamy. remove from the heat and set aside.

for the bass, season the fillets first. heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan. add the fillets, skin side down, and fry for around 3 minutes until crispy and golden. don't poke about with the fish during that time - just leave it to cook. turn over gently and cook for another 2-3 minutes. add the wine and cook until it evaporates.

reheat the sauce gently. spoon over a generous amount on each plate and place the sea bass fillet on top.


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