My Favourite Cookbook

EssentialItalianCookingA career spent working in food and publishing and a love for books has resulted in a collection of cook and food related books which more than fills a room in our house. I frequently sit in this room
researching or just reading these books for pleasure. This collection includes a few books which belonged to my mother and my
grandmother but most I have collected during my career.

From time to time I plan to dip into my library and tell you about one of the books that you could find there. At other times I will tell you about a recently published book which I have purchased and am enjoying cooking from.

My all-time favourite cookbook and one which I have cooked from more than any other that I own is Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking MacMillan London Ltd 1992. This book is not just a cookbook but also a great reference book for all things to do with Italian food and cooking. The publication of this book in 1992 was the combining of two books written almost 20 years earlier – The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking. At the time these books were considered to be “the most authentic guide to Italian food ever written in the U.S”. It was with great sadness that learnt a few months ago that Marella Hazan had died at the age of 89 – Italian by birth Marcella did not come to cooking until she married her Italian American husband, Victor, and moved to New York in the 1950’s.

It is hard to choose my favourite recipe from this book but after much deliberation I have decided on the following fish recipe.

In the original recipe bluefish is used however choose whatever looks good in the fish shop on the day, I found that this recipe works best with a meaty fish such a bluenose, snapper, blue cod or blue moki.

Baked Fish Fillets with Potatoes, Garlic and Olive Oil, Genoese Style

In Genoese cooking, there is a large repertoire of dishes in which the lead role is taken each time by a different player, while the supporting cast
remains the same. The regulars are potatoes, garlic, olive oil and parsley, the star may be fish, shrimps, prawns, small octopus, meat or fresh
porcini mushrooms. The recipe that follows illustrates the general
procedure.

In Genoa one would have used the freshly caught silvery anchovies of the Riveria. I have found the bluefish available on both sides of the Atlantic to be a successful replacement, so good in fact that one may even prefer it. Where bluefish is unobtainable, the fillets of any firm-fleshed fish may be substituted.

Serves 6

675g boiling potatoes
an oven-to-table dish approximately 40 x 25cm, preferably enamelled cast-iron ware
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 thick firm fish fillets – approximately 150g each

1             Preheat the oven to 230°C.

2             Peel the potatoes and slice the very thinly, barely thicker than crisps. Wash them in cold water, then thoroughly pat them dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper.

3             Put all the potatoes into the baking dish, half the olive oil, half the garlic, have the parsley, several liberal pinches of salt and black pepper. Toss the potatoes 2 or 3 times to coat them well, then spread them evenly over the bottom of the dish.

4             Put the potatoes in the uppermost third of the preheated oven and cook them for 12-15 minutes, until they are half done.

5             Take out the dish but do not turn off the oven. Put the fish
fillets on the potatoes. Mix the remaining olive oil, garlic and parsley in a small bowl and pour the mixture over the fish, distributing it evenly. Sprinkle with liberal pinches of salt and black pepper. Return the dish to the oven.

6             After 10 minutes, take the dish out, but do not turn off the oven. Use a spoon to scoop up some of the oil at the bottom of the dish and baste the fish with it. Loosen the potatoes that have
become browned and are stuck to the sides of the dish, moving them away. Push into their place slices that are not so brown. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 5-8 more minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets.

7             Allow to settle a few minutes after removing from the oven. Serve directly from the baking dish, scraping loose all the potatoes stuck to the sides – they are the most delectable bits – and pouring the cooking juices over each portion of fish and potatoes.

Reproduced from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan with a few minor changes made by Rachel.

Rachel’s notes: I have reproduced this recipe pretty much as it appears in the book so it gives you an idea of how Marcella writes and why I love this book.

  • I have made this recipe numerous times and as mentioned above use the best fish available on the day.
  • I use a vegetable peeler to make the thin slices of potato.
  • I also tend to cook the potatoes in Step 4 for longer than Marcella and turn and
    loosen them several times before adding the fish – but as I do not have the dish
    Marcella recommends I use an ovenproof glass dish which does not get as hot as an enamelled cast-iron one. When I cook this recipe by the time the fish is added to the dish the potatoes are cooked and have the delectable browned bits that Marcella
    refers to Step 7.

This book is still in print and should you wish to find out how to get a copy of it contact Beattie & Forbes Booksellers at 70 Tennyson St, Napier or phone (06) 835 8968.