Fish Man came up trumps the other day with a whole hake in the back of his little van. It was rather large, too much for just Big Man and me, so as it was fresh it went into the freezer.
A few days later friends were coming over for lunch, and the sun promised to shine, so I decided to barbecue it. A quick visit to the garden to gather mint and lemons, and out into the olive grove for the tops of the wild fennel which is everywhere, and I was set.
I had to gut and clean the fish, but if you´re buying from a fishmonger, I´m sure it will be cleaned for you. It´s not that tricky (wear kitchen gloves though, or you´ll smell like a hake for the rest of the day!) but not for the squeamish.
Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper and salt the inside slightly. Stuff it with bunches of herbs and thin slices of lemons, then sprinkle the outside with coarse sea salt. No oil needed, but the salt will protect the fish and you´ll end up with lovely charred skin which I personally love to eat, but I know some people don´t.
Then it´s on to the barbecue for your hake. We cooked it on a low heat and the lid on for about 15 minutes in total. If you do use hake, but you could do this with pretty much any fish, it´s firm, so easy to turn when it´s half done. Check it´s cooked by peeking inside – the flesh will be white when it´s ready.
I served this with a delicious salad which was so beautifully coloured, it didn´t matter that the sun went in and a big cloud hovered over us all through lunch! I used chopped new boiled potatoes, cooked beetroot, oranges, thin slices of raw carrot and chopped chives. I made a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard powder, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper.
We´ve had some amazing mild, sunny February weather, but yesterday things changed and the rains came down. The temperature dropped and made me yearn for warming soups. I had bought a couple of kilos of red onions from a lady in the market a few days previously. They were probably home grown as she had a wheelbarrow full of them and nothing more. The onions were eye wateringly strong, as I had found out when I used some in a salad, so I thought that perhaps they would have a gentler flavour if cooked slowly in a chutney or soup.
Memories of a romantic week in Paris with Big Man reminded me of French Onion Soup. I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower for him, despite a severe dislike for heights. After returning to ground level, pale, shaking and cold, we found a little bistro where we warmed ourselves up with Onion Soup and a bottle of red wine shared on one of those tiny Parisian Bistro tables which lend themselves to knees and hands touching over a romantic meal.
If you fancy a bowl of cockle warming Onion Soup, with or without the Gallic Romance, open yourself a bottle of white wine, pour yourself a glass and get ready to chop and cry. For two, you´ll need:
Half a kilo (or more if you don´t mind chopping them) of onions, finely sliced. French if you have them, but otherwise any nationality of onion – it doesn´t even need a French accent
Two tablespoons of olive oil
A thick slice of butter
A level teaspoon of sugar
Two heaped teaspoons of plain flour
750mlof beef stock or chicken stock with a teaspoon of marmite or Bovril (or you can use stock made with a beef stock cube)
A glass of dry white wine
Salt and pepper
A slug of brandy (optional)
It´s not a difficult dish to make. It´s cheap too, but needs a bit of patience. No rushing this one I´m afraid!
First you´ll thinly slice those onions, then you´ll blow your nose, wipe your eyes and melt the butter with the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions, mix them around to coat them and turn the heat down to low. These will now cook very gently until they start to caramelize but still remain soft.
This can take at least half an hour, sometimes double that. It just depends on the time of year and how much water the onions have. Stir them with a wooden spoon from time to time and when they start to turn brown, sprinkle the sugar on top and keep cooking until they are dark brown. This can take another 10-20 minutes.
Now sprinkle over the flour and cook gently while stirring for a minute.
At this point you can add your wine and then your beef stock (if you have it, but it´s very hard to buy good beef, let alone find beef bones to make stock in Southern Spain). I use chicken stock (if I have some made) otherwise water and a stock cube and I add a good teaspoon of marmite to give it a beefy taste. I know it´s salty, but you haven´t seasoned yet, and depending on how much salt you like to use, you can leave this part of the seasoning out at the end.
Today I used homemade chicken stock, and because our chickens are corn fed, my stock is very golden in colour. This means that unless I add loads of marmite to darken it, it won´t be as dark as it usually turns out. Too much marmite makes it super salty, so I live with golden coloured soup sometimes!
Simmer gently for about 15 minutes and you´re almost ready to serve. Taste to check and add salt and pepper if you like. If it´s a touch sweet from the caramelized onions, I find a sprinkle of salt and a slug extra of white wine usually balances the taste out.
If you like you can serve with little rounds of melted cheese on toast at the bottom of the soup bowl, or floated on the top, but what really gives it that extra warming hit is a small hit of brandy poured in just as you serve. Bon Appétit!
Just as I finished making my soup, the sun broke through the clouds and rain, and I had a beautiful rainbow to look at and brighten my day. Lucky me, Onion Soup and a Rainbow – life can be full of the most unexpectedly lovely moments.
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....