I am, quite possibly, about to lose most of you with this post. Because in this post I will officially reveal my not-so-secret grossness. But before I do that, I’ll try to compensate by posting about something that is much more classic and refined.
Marcella Hazan. Have you heard of her? I realize that not everyone in the world was necessarily raised with a love of food and recipes in the same way that I was. Marcella Hazan is, in my opinion and as far as I can tell, THE authority on Italian food, at least as far as cookbooks go. When I was growing up my Mom had one of the two books that are brought together in this hardcover volume I have – and hers was this old, tattered, paperback book the size of a small drugstore novel. I remember it distinctly both because it was different than any other cookbook I had seen then (no pictures except for the occasional sketch of a vegetable, novel-sized, more likely to have prose-like directions rather than step-by-step instructions) and because it was where the recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara came from, something I remember eating a lot as a kid. Anyways, I had some basil to use up, among many other veggies, so I thought I’d make a pesto. I consulted Marcella and she lists a recipe for pesto pasta with potatoes and green beans. Whaddaya know, I have both on hand that need using up!
Can you see that in the photo there? She says that “there is no single dish more delicious in the entire Italian pasta repertory”. If that’s not a glowing review of a recipe, I don’t know what is. So I made it! I didn’t follow her elaborate instructions really, because I figured this is something that can be done in one pot – start boiling the potatoes first, then add the pasta, then add the beans, and drain them together. An exercise in good timing!
So I went out and bought a tiny 3-cup food processor and made this pesto. I never follow a recipe for pesto anymore, not since I had to make it multiple times daily with elementary and high school students on a farm with the tiniest food processor and whatever green herb thing was available that day (chives, oregano, spinach, arugula, mint, you name it!). I always just start by pulsing whatever nuts I have on hand – usually walnuts, like this time – and then adding the garlic, followed by herbs and generous drizzlings of olive oil until it looks like the consistency that I want. Then I add cheese, and, if I remember, lemon juice and salt. Easy peasy. Pesto is hard to mess up, and really easy to wing with whatever you’ve got around. And just a note – if you’ve never made pesto with arugula, you really really should. It’s awesome. Same goes for cilantro, unless you’re one of those genetic cilantro-haters (I’m not!).
As I mentioned, I made it all in one pot. I can’t remember the exact timings (which would probably be helpful since it was such a delicate balance) but I think it was something like potatoes for 5-6 minutes, add the pasta and boil those together for another 6 minutes or so, add the beans and boil for another 4-5 minutes. Or something to that effect. In the end, it was quite tasty. Definitely a carb-heavy meal, but really satisfying for an early fall day. The beans were tough, but I think that had more to do with the fact that they were more than a week old rather than how they were cooked.
And now, for something completely different. I only feel remotely comfortable telling you about this because in spite of myself, I think it’s totally delicious, and also because one Mr. Jamie Oliver, foodie favourite and champion of most good, wholesome, well-farmed foods also loves this thing.
Yes, that’s it right there. See it? “Fantastic Fish Stick Buttie”. FISH STICKS. So, back before I stopped eating meat, I loved fish sticks. I’m not afraid to admit it! Gross breaded minced mixed mystery fish! I loved them. Well, I still love them, and now fish is the only animal meat I eat, but I also know that the fishing industry is one of the scariest, most messed up farming practices that exists these days. We’re running out of fish, and quickly. So even though I occasionally go out for sushi and eat salmon that is likely far from sustainable, I try not to buy or eat fish that I know is bad for the world. But it sure is tricky! You need to consult one of the few websites that monitor the fishing industry. You can google Sea Choice or the seafood watch at Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as others – I’ve gone to David Suzuki’s website before and found some good sources for sustainable seafood. Anyways, Monterey Bay says that Alaskan pollock is a good alternative, and Sea Choice says that they have some concerns about pollock, but it’s not the worst in the world – and pollock is a fish that is sometimes used in fish sticks. So with this information, I set out for Fiesta Farms to see if they carried any fish stick-like product that I could buy in good conscience. Because man oh man, was I craving a fish stick buttie.
This is what I came home with. It was 100% Pollock, which was a hard to find thing to begin with – most fish stick are made from a combination of fishes, predominantly cod. Cod is bad! It is very bad! Try not to buy cod please! This healthy, kosher fish stick was the only thing I could find that suited me, and I thought “hey, potato-crusted doesn’t sound half bad!” and it is indeed true that, as the box claims, I actually recognize all the ingredients listed on the back. So I went home to make a buttie. What is a buttie, you ask? Basically, from what I understand, a buttie is a british term for basically any sandwich filling thing that is smushed between two pieces of well-buttered white doughy bread. A fish stick buttie, according to Jamie Oliver, is just this, with fish sticks and ketchup in the middle. Throw in some lettuce if you want, can’t hurt, but that’s about it. I suppose it’s sort of like a homemade, less scary, filet o’fish.
There it is, pre-assembling and smushing. Jamie Oliver stresses the fact that once you have this sandwich together, you need to smush it. I’m willing to agree – kind of like flattening a grilled cheese sandwich while it’s frying, you know? I added some mayo to mine since I’m a mayonnaise fiend, and threw some pea shoots on top since I had some laying around in the fridge. Then I smushed it together and ate it.
Well, actually, truth be told, that’s not exactly what happened. I had decided to pan-fry the fish sticks against my better judgement (generally I don’t pan-fry anything that starts out frozen, it never works for me!) instead of baking them, and when I bit into my sandwich they were EW FROZEN still! Crispy but cold! Blech! So, I was forced to do what my mother and I have always done in such situations – take it apart, microwave it, patch it back together, nobody will know (see my brother’s pumpkin birthday cake disaster circa 2008). I took out the smushed, mangled fish sticks and microwaved them for 20 seconds and mashed them back into my sandwich and all was well.
So there you have it. The truth is out! I’m not all peach pies and black raspberry jams and corn pancakes. In reality, I’m probably more fish stick buttie than anything else. Deal with it.