Fish Stew with Fennel and Baby Potatoes (a.k.a. Pirate Stew)

At our house, this fast and fancy little number is also known as "Pirate Stew", a name inspired by one of my favourite children's books,  The Troll written by Julia Donaldson,  author of the beloved Gruffalo franchise. In it, a hapless Troll desperate to eat a goat (à la Three Billy Goats Gruff), is captured by a gang of fish-loving pirates with poor culinary skills.  The Troll is saved from jumping the plank when Pirate Peg Pokadot discovers his cookery book and frying pan. Sick of their own bony, briny, slimy cooking, the Pirates spare the Troll's life and make him the ship's cook.   Sadly for the Troll, when he turns to his "favourite page in his cookery book" a recipe for a nice goat stew, the incredulous Pirates inform him that he will be cooking fish and only fish, because that is what pirates are supposed eat.  

As someone who has many favourite pages in many cookbooks,  I feel terrible for the poor old Troll who will never realize his lifelong epicurean dream of cooking and eating a goat stew.  So as comfort, I imagine that at least if he's destined to a life full of fish stew, it is something  akin to this perfectly creamy, white wine and dill scented dish that appeared in Bon Appétit a couple of years ago.       

This stew takes under half an hour from start to finish, and it's elegant enough to feel special, but simple enough to make any old night of the week.  It's a cozy bowl full of fragrant chowder-like broth studded with bits of  fennel and satisfying chunks of fish and potato.  I enjoy sopping up the broth with a thick slice of buttered wholegrain bread, so as not to waste a drop.   This is undoubtedly a meal to warm the cockles of the heart - even the cockles of pirates, trolls, picky children and tired adults.  

From Bon Ap
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz baby potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 medium bulb of fennel, finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups of broth or water
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 1/2 lbs skinless white fish,  cut in 2 inch pieces (I used local pickerel)*
2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat.  Cook potatoes until beginning to soften, around 3 minutes.  

2. Add fennel, garlic and season with salt and pepper.   Cook for 2 minutes, until fennel is soft, stirring occasionally.

3. Add wine, bring to a boil and reduce until almost evaporated.  Pour in 2 cups of broth.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, until potatoes are soft.  

4. Stir in fish and crème fraîche and simmer for 4 minutes, or until fish is just cooked through.   Sprinkle in the fresh dill, and more salt and pepper, to taste. 

Serve with lemon wedges, if desired (the recipe calls for this, but I actually prefer it with out the lemon) 

*I haven't tried it with anything but white fish, as per the recipe, but I think it would be just as delicious with other types of fish including trout, cold smoked trout or salmon, or even shrimp.  

Serves 4


Hearty Winter Miso Soup

A lot of individuals and experts make a lot of different claims about what constitutes healthy eating these days.  There's clean eating, gluten-free, grain-free, wheat-free, paleo, vegan, macrobiotic, sugar-free and on and on and on.  It can be very confusing to know who's right and what's true;  and the stakes are pretty darn high when words like cancer and poison are bandied about. Personally,  I think if it works for you, then go for it.  But just to be clear,  by "works" I mean it makes you feel great, and it's not obsessive and alienating, or being driven by fear or a negative body image.  

What works best for me is to follow my intuition.   I know that when I eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, I feel energetic and revitalized by my food.  When I eat high fat, high sugar, low nutrient foods like french fries, cupcakes or my absolute favourite:  fresh baguette and butter, I am in sensory heaven, but they don't make me feel physically restored. In fact, I often feel like taking little nap after an indulgent snack like that!    

So in following my intuition, when someone is sick, I look to one of my whole foods cookbooks for something that's packed with nutrient rich ingredients and also appeals to my cooking imagination.  Recently when a close friend and home cook extraordinaire came down with a serious case of influenza, I cracked out Amy Chaplin's gorgeous cookbook At Home In The Whole Foods Kitchen and came across this Hearty Winter Miso Soup with adzuki beans, squash and ginger.   I was attracted to this recipe for a few reasons.  First, the interesting ingredients:  ginger juice, 2 types of miso, sesame oil and seaweed.  Second, Chaplin’s claim that this soup is a “deeply nourishing meal” which sounds like the perfect thing to eat when your sick. And last, this cookbook has never steered me wrong. 

When my dear sick friend took her first spoonful of this traditional Ayurvedic-style soup, it was plainly obvious to me that this was exactly what she needed. The finest meal in the finest restaurant could not have done for her, what this humble, but mighty soup did in that moment.  And that, to me, is the epitome of intuitive eating.   It certainly is a delicious soup, but I think it's particularly tasty when your body is craving something restorative and immune boosting.  I promised I’d send her the recipe, so here is my ever so slightly adapted version!  

1/2 cup of adzuki beans soaked overnight (or one 455ml can)
8 cups of water
3 dried shitake mushrooms
1 tbsp. sesame oil (Amy says unrefined, untoasted, but I used toasted) 
2 inch piece of kombu (optional, but good if you’re boiling the beans from scratch)
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on a diagonal
2 cups squash, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup of thinly sliced kale leaves (preferably Lacinato)
2 tbsp or 1/4 oz of wakame, (soaked, drained and roughly chopped)
3 tbsp. plus 2 tsp dark miso (Amy says barley or brown rice, but I used red)
3 tbsp. chick pea miso
4 tsp of ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze in your had over a bowl to extract juice)
green onion to garnish

Drain soaked beans and place in a pot with water, shiitakes and kombu.  Cover pot, bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft and creamy.  (30 to 60 minutes depending on how fresh your beans are) Remove kombu and thinly slice shiitakes.  

OR put water, shiitakes and kombu (if using) on the stove and boil for 20 min and open a can of adzuki beans.  After 30 minutes, remove kombu and throw away.  Take out shiitakes and thinly slice them.   Toss the canned adzuki beans into the kombu, shiitake broth.  

Warm oil in another pot over medium heat and add onions.  Saute until translucent (around 3 minutes) and then add carrots, squash and saute for another minute or two.   Add adzuki beans, broth and the sliced shiitakes.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked.

Stir in kale, wakame and simmer for 1 minute more.   Dissolve the miso in a cup with a little bit of soup liquid and then pour in the miso over a medium strainer (to avoid chunks), pushing with a spoon.  It’s best not to boil miso because it’s a live food and will lose some of its nutritional integrity if cooked at a high heat.  

Stir in the ginger juice and remove from heat.  Serve garnished with green onion.

Makes 4 to 6 bowls of soup

A FEW NOTES:  I’ve made this soup twice now.  The first time I made it with around half a cup of arame (another type of seaweed), which I thought was equally if not more delicious.  It’s slightly chewier and already shredded.   I also used canned beans the first time and I think they were slightly creamier than my scratch beans, which took forever to soften.  

The second time I made this I also threw in some leftover mushrooms from the fridge (around 1 cup, thinly sliced) which works well, if you’re a mushroom fan.  I’ve been eating this soup for breakfast all week and it’s been the perfect start to my day!  

For a quick version of something similar I would also try Amy Chaplin's Squash Miso Bowl with Greens and Ginger