the rise of the pescetarian

 

stuffed baby squid with pistachios and currants

As I’ve mentioned on a few occasions, I am fascinated by people and their dietary preferences and in particular what motivates their choices.  From my flat mate of many years ago who thought that being a vegan would cancel out the effects of all the illicit substances that he partook of on an alarmingly regular basis, to my colleague who gave up eating seafood after she became a scuba diver, to my dear old Dad who is convinced that he is afflicted with pretty much any food allergy that doesn’t result in anaphylactic shock. I find it endlessly intriguing.

A few months ago I was introduced to a new class of non-omnivore. Some good friends from my winemaking days were coming over for dinner and sent a text to see what type of wine they should bring with a little btw… you remember that Paula’s a pescetarian… Of course I had no recollection of her dietary restrictions so I quickly inquired as to whether pescetarians eat coq au vin. As luck would have it the pescetarian in question was flexible enough not to wreak havoc with my menu plans and a mighty fine evening was had by all.

The whole concept of vegetarians who eat fish is not a new one. There has always been something that really bugged me about the concept of labelling yourself a peaceful vegetable lover who would never deign to ingest a cute little lamb but would happily chow down on the beautiful creatures from the sea. It’s funny though because under the pescetarian label I have absolutely no problems with people choosing this as their dietary framework. I guess it’s all about branding really so maybe the vegetarians-who-eat-chicken crowd should consider a name change to the poultry-tarians? OK needs some wordsmithing…but you get my drift.

So recently when I invited my pescetarian friends over for a meal, this time I was prepared and took the opportunity to go all out on the seafood front.  A trip to the Sydney fish markets, one of my absolute favourite places, found me laden with the plumpest glossy Victorian scallops sitting prettily in their shells and the cutest little Queensland squid…the makings of a seafood extravaganza.

The original plan was to serve the scallops marinated in lemon juice with crunchy cucumber and celery hearts, a cerviche vibe as it were. But the unseasonably cold Sydney weather made the thought of cold raw seafood seem less than appealing so plan B was required. With a Spanish style main course on the agenda, I wanted to keep the starter Iberian feeling in some way. A smoky paprika and preserved lemon oil to drizzle over the scallops before grilling until golden and sizzling seemed like a much better plan.

Squid is one of my favourite seafoods and I often BBQ or shallow fry it a la salt and pepper squid, but have always been fascinated by the Spanish stuffed squid style. This seemed like the perfect occasion to give it a try with a bitter green salad and some crispy roast spuds…perfect. Then to finish I did toy with the idea of putting my new frying thermometer to good use on some churros, those delectable light and crispy Spanish answers to the doughnut. But working with hot oil at the end of an evening with fellow wine enthusiasts did not seem like a very safe course of action. So instead I chose to go with a more sensible prepare-in-advance dessert in the form of individual cheesecakey ricotta tarts teamed with fragrant rosemary infused icecream…..all good things….

a vaguely spanish pescaterian feast
scallops on the half shell with paprika oil with a mint & green olive salad
stuffed baby squid with pistachios and currants
roast kipfler potatoes
endive & parsley salad
little ricotta & honey tarts with rosemary scented icecream

 

grilled scallops on the half shell with paprika oil with a mint & green olive salad
serves 4 as a starter

Seductive Spanish smoky paprika is up there as one of my all time favourite ingredients. It adds magic and a gorgeous smoky complexity and in this case works really well with the fresh sweetness of the scallops. It also works a treat in tomatoey dishes. The Spanish stuff is a world apart from your regular Hungarian paprika so if you can’t get your hands on the Spanish stuff you’d be better off to do something else with your scallops.

16 scallops
1/4C olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2t Spanish sweet paprika
1T Spanish smoky paprika
large pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 small preserved lemon, rind only, finely chopped
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 lebanese cucumber,deseeded and finely chopped
8 large green olives, stones removed and finely chopped
5 sprigs mint, leaves picked and torn
1t sherry vinegar
2t extra virgin olive oil

For the oil, heat oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and spices and cook stirring for a few minutes until everything is fragrant. Remove from the heat and stir through preserved lemon. Allow to cool to room temperature.

For the salad combine all ingredients and season to taste. If you did want to prepare this ahead you could place all ingredients in a bowl with the mint on top and then refrigerate. When ready to serve toss through.

You can either leave the scallops one per shell, or if you prefer to economise on plate space, you can double up and have 2 scallops per shell. Wipe shells and scallops clean with a damp cloth and place in a single layer on a heat proof tray. Divide oil mixture between shells and season. Cook scallops under a very hot grill for 2-3 minutes or until the tops are golden and the sauce is sizzling. Divide shells between 4 plates and place a small mound of salad on each plate. Serve immediately.

stuffed baby squid with pistachios and currants
serves 4

It is critical that you use the freshest squid and that they are small and tender with hoods no longer than 10cm in length. As these are only given a brief fry to cook them, larger tougher squid would end up rubbery and unpleasant.

This was adapted from a recipe by Sophia Young that appeared way back in the May 2001 addition of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

12-16 baby squid
olive oil
plain flour for dusting
for the stuffing:
130g fresh sourdough bread crumbs
1 large spanish onion, finely chopped
2t dried oregano
1t cumin ground
300g tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
30g currants soaked in 2T sherry vinegar for at least 20mins
150g pistachios, toasted and chopped
3 sprigs mint, leaves finely chopped
for the sauce:
1 large spanish onion, finely chopped
3T extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
250ml dry white wine
pinch saffron threads
1/2t Spanish sweet paprika
2C tomato passata or puree
800g tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1T sherry vinegar
handful thyme leaves to serve
roast kipfler potatoes, to serve

For stuffing, heat 3T oil in a large frying pan and cook onion over medium heat for 5 mins. Add garlic and oregano and continue to cook stirring occasionally for 10mins or until onions is soft. Add crumbs and cook until toasted and brown. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Stir through remaining stuffing ingredients and season.

To clean the squid pull on the tentacles to remove the head from the body. Discard head. Remove the hard, transparent ‘quill’ from the hood. Peel off the fine outer pinkish skin and then rinse and pat dry. Divide stuffing between squid, sealing the top of each squid with a toothpick as you go. There will probably be excess stuffing. Refrigerate squid until ready to cook.

For the sauce, heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened. Add wine and saffron and simmer until wine is reduced by half. Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 20-30mins or until reduced to a chunky sauce. Season.

Heat olive oil in a deep fryer or wok, you need enough to be able to cover the squid. Dust squid with flour and shake off excess. Fry squid in batches until golden on each side. Drain squid on paper towel.

To serve, divide sauce between plates, top with squid and sprinkle with thyme and a sneaky drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

curly endive & parsley salad
serves 4-6

I’m not sure why but I associate bitter curly endive with Spain. This salad makes for a refreshingly bitter, crunchy accompaniment.

1 head curly endive, washed, dried and leaves torn
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
1T sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed
3T extra virgin olive oil

Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl. Season and allow to stand for at least 10mins. Discard garlic then toss leaves in the dressing and serve immediately.

little ricotta & honey tarts with rosemary scented icecream
serves 6

These ‘tarts’ are really more in the baked cheesecake spectrum of desserts. They are delicious, regardless of what you call them. The recipe was adapted from a Karen Martini published recently in Sunday Life. I like the idea of using breadcrumbs as the base for a tart rather than pastry but next time I would toast them first for better colour and crunch. You could make one large 26cm tart and adjust the baking time accordingly.

Rosemary makes a beautifully fragrant but subtle addition to ice cream. If you aren’t lucky enough to have an icecream machine, however, shop bought vanilla icecream or even marscapone would be perfectly acceptable substitutions.

for the tarts:
150g honey
2 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
100g fresh breadcrumbs
500g ricotta
50g sugar
5 eggs
200g yoghurt
250g marscapone
zest 1 lemon
large handful sliced almonds
for the icecream:
600mL thickened cream
300mL milk
4 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
4 egg yolks
110g sugar (1/2C)

For the icecream place cream, rosmary and milk in a medium saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 1/2 hour. Whisk yolks and sugar until pale. Reheat cream mixture until almost boiling again then add to the yolk mixture. Stir and return to the saucepan and cook over a low to medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, being careful not to boil. Cool custard then strain to remove leaves. Refrigerate until well chilled then churn in an icecream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

For the tarts, grease and line 6 x one cup capacity ramekins. Divide crumbs between ramekins. Process ricotta and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add eggs one at a time then add remaining ingredients except almonds and process until just combined. Divide filling between ramekins and top with the almonds.

Bake 180C for 35-40mins, until golden and puffy. Allow to cool in the oven with the door ajar.

Serve tarts at room temperature with a big scoop of icecream.

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