With winter safely behind us, my thoughts are turning to summer cooking and entertaining. Having ignored my garden for months I am now busy replacing cracked pots and preparing the way for my constant need for fresh herbs.
I am often asked about Italian use of herbs and spices as I always stress their use in Italian cookery. All Italy’s regions have their favourite. For example Tuscans add rosemary to almost every dish, Ligurians love their precious basil and any self-respecting Calabrian wouldn’t dream of cooking a meal without chilli. Generally only fennel seed, oregano and chillies are used in their dried form, otherwise Italians will use herbs picked daily from outside their back door. Such is their determination to have fresh leaves to enjoy, if they don’t have a garden they will often be grown in pots on a balcony or windowsill.
I have a small but sunny lobby in our house and this year my children and I have successfully grown chilli, basil and parsley from seed. The seedlings are now ready for potting-on and then after any threat of frost has gone, I will transfer them outside to join the hardier herbs such as bay, rosemary and sage that survive well outdoors throughout the year. I have ordered some seeds from my friend Paolo Arrigo at www.seedsofitaly.com so that I can grow wild fennel, borage and lovage. I will use the fennel seeds in the recipe below and the stems for fish dishes.
Giancarlo’s father maintained his herb garden until he was 85 and used something from it every day, if I can continue the habit I shall be happy.
Seabream with Fennel Seeds and Brandy
Orata con semi di finocchio e brandy
This recipe is from my new book The Italian Cookery Course published by Kyle Cathie.
4 seabream fillets Flour for dredging 100ml sunflower oil 50ml extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons crushed fennel seeds 2 anchovy fillets 1/2 red chilli including seeds 2 garlic cloves, peeled Good pinch of salt 50ml brandy 50ml white wine 100ml fish stock or water
Season and flour the fish. Heat the sunflower oil and fry the fish pieces until golden brown on both sides. Meanwhile chop the anchovy, chilli and garlic very finely together. Remove the fish and set aside on a warm plate. Pour off the leftover oil and any bits, and wipe out the pan.
Pour the olive oil into the pan and when hot add the anchovy, chilli and garlic. Fry gently until softened then return the fish to the pan, pour in the brandy and ignite. Add the wine and reduce for a couple of minutes. Add the stock and cook for 5 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes.