Monday, February 19, 2007

'Fish' and 'Chips' 2: Poor man's potatoes

On Friday afternoon an old school friend of mine arrived in Melbourne for the weekend, someone I’ve known for a very long time. Our friendship was forged in 1985 during a rather heated debate about Duran Duran and Wham. As I said, it was a long time ago. Luckily we’ve both moved on in terms of both musical and fashion sense since then. Kylie was down here to farewell a friend of hers who is moving, following her heart, to Switzerland. So, as the visit was last minute and potentially frantic, lunch in the city somewhere was the best option.

After a beautiful meal of crab and red mullet ravioli and a few glasses of very well chilled white wine, it was clear that neither of us could fit anything else in. So, it would seem, my Friday night fish and chips post would be, well, empty. But I had a little something up my sleeve, a meal I had cooked and wanted to share; it’s just that there was no photo. No matter – words alone will have to suffice. Instead, here are two unrelated photographs; a close-up of one of the artists paintings, the other of our cumquat tree. I love that tree.

The fish: When the potatoes are well and truly ready, get your fish on the go – they will take only a moment or two of your attention. Over a high heat, quickly pan-fry King George Whiting fillets (or any thin, delicious white fish) in a little butter and grated orange zest. Cook for 2-3 minutes, skin side down. Flip over and cook for 1 minute longer. When nearly ready, douse with a good squeeze of orange juice and allow it all to bubble for another 30 seconds or so. Ready to go.

The potatoes: A peasant dish, Spanish in origin, of slowly cooked potatoes and capsicums (bell peppers). It’s yet another example of how the humblest of ingredients can be elevated something magnificent with little effort. The Artist moaned with pleasure over these. So did I. The fish, so sweetly scented with orange, were a good accompaniment, but these potatoes are a meal in themselves. Fresh bay leaves really do make all the difference here.

Patatas a lo pobre –
serves 4

Or ‘Poor Man’s Potatoes’. All I can say is that things aren’t too bad if this is all you have to eat. Yes, that is a lot of olive oil and it’s not a misprint, but not all of it is eaten, rather it is drained away at the end. You can use it to fry onions (delicious) or anything else for that matter, just make sure that you put the oil in the fridge and use it within a couple of days.

1 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 large red onions, sliced into thin half moons

6 cloves of garlic, sliced thickly

2 red capsicums, roughly chopped

1 yellow or green capsicum, roughly chopped

3-4 fresh bay leaves

1 kilo of waxy potatoes, desiree or kipfler for example, peeled

A couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes

Sea salt and pepper

In a large, heavy-based frying pan with a lid, gently heat 5 tablespoons of the olive oil and add the finely sliced onion with a pinch of salt to release their juices. Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, until softened and translucent. Add the garlic, roughly chopped capsicums and bay leaves. Cook gently for another 15 minutes.

Cut potatoes lengthwise, then cut each piece into 3 chunks and salt lightly. Add the rest of the olive oil to the pan and when it has heated up, add the potatoes and tomatoes. Leave to simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid and continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes, by which time the potatoes will have cooked through completely when pierced with a skewer. When ready, drain much of the oil off the potatoes through a sieve into a jug. Just enough oil will be left to coat them, making them very beautiful and luscious indeed.

The leftover oil is a boon – store it in a jar and fry onions in it when next making pasta sauce. It is richly flavoured and luscious.


Lucy said...

Must be the Irish in me, but give me potatoes every day of the week and I'll be happy. Your patatas a lo pobre look absolutely delicious. And why, I want to know, do your cumquats look so good when ours are shrivelled little specimens...

BTW, love the close up of the painting...I need to know more about 'the artist'. Oh, and purslane - do you know how lucky you are????

Lucy said...

Ahh, the Artist...We met over a discussion about painting. He was new to it and I was incredibly cynical about it, having spent my uni years at art school. I moved down here to Melbourne soon after that conversation and over the last 5 years his work has blossomed. The close up is of one of his many paintings of the massive cumquat tree in spring. You should see the size of the tree - I will do an arty shot for you - but unfortunately I can't take credit for growing it as it was well and truly established long before we moved in.

I must say that the Artist's passion for painting has rubbed off a little on me and I find myself going back to doing the odd drawing now and again, something that will hopefully keep happening this year!

Thanks Lucy for reminding me how lucky I am!