This is one of those episodes where I was completely doubting what I was doing in the kitchen and therefore didn't even bother making notes other than scribbling onto the magazine in front of me... I almost didn't take a picture either which would have been a massive mistake because you really ought to know about this dish. Has this ever happened to you? You see a picture in a food magazine or cookbook, like the looks of it, don't have the time to read the recipe or really think about it and then as you cook and get more intimate with the ingredients (ones you are not very familiar with or that you have not yet used in combination), suddenly you're almost stricken with fear... fear of the dish ending in an absolute disaster, being inedible, a horrible, tasteless slush of things that wouldn't want to be eaten together if you paid them a million dollars... and yet you had all intentions of making an effort and having a nice special meal with a really special someone only to end it all in tears. And then you take your first bite and you shake your head in disbelief, thinking how lucky you are that you averted a culinary disaster. And with every bite you fall in love with it more. And by the end of it you think it's the best thing since sliced bread. (I am not talking about Hovis with margarine, but a slice of freshly baked, crusty sourdough with a generous smear of butter studded with crunchy fleur de sel. And maybe a scattering of wild garlic or chopped chives). Been there? Done that?
Well, I had such a moment last week. My Mum had brought the last edition of an Austrian food magazine (that changes its name so often I can't be bothered to keep up-to-date with the re-echristenings anymore... at this moment in time, it's called "Wienerin. Food & Style", December 2008. It has to be said that despite all their relaunches they have kept one constant: their food stylist Gabriele Halper and photographer Luzia Ellert who is an absolute genius in my opinion) and I have mentioned before how you'd get one edition of this quarterly and you cook it back to front, then in the next edition, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single recipe that tickles your taste buds. This edition is love at second sight, my Mum almost didn't bring it because she saw nothing in it, I had to leaf through it twice, but did find quite a selection of dishes in the end that I'd like to try (or bastardise, as the case may be).
The recipe I based this present dish on was by a certain Joerg Domansky who rose to fame at one of Vienna's elite Italians, Cantinetta Antinori. He now cooks at Procacci, a restaurant I hadn't heard of until recently but am very tempted to visit next time I am in Vienna. It combines monkfish fillets slowly poached in olive oil with a creamy squash purée, a combination that my kitchen hasn't seen before, but the stroke of genius comes with the topping: chopped pecans (walnuts in the original), simply dressed with some lemon juice and parsley. I don't quite know how, but this combination of buttery purée with the zingy crunch of the nuts absolutely hit my spot. I hope it touches you in the same way.
And here's a little reminder to kindly join us for the latest edition of "Waiter, there's something in my..." where the theme is "Hot puds". The deadline is the end of this month, there's a phantastic prize to be won and all the details surrounding participation can be found here.
Monkfish fillets on butternut squash with herbed walnuts*
(serves 2 with a good appetite)
500 g monkfish fillet (cleaned and cut into ca. 5 cm pieces)
1 medium-sized butternut squash (ca. 1 kg)
100 g butter
300 ml vegetable stock**
50 ml white wine or Noilly Prat
freshly grated nutmeg
2 sprigs thyme
100 g pecan nuts
1 small bunch parsley
juice of one lemon
Pre-heat oven to 100C.
Halve the squash, deseed, peel and cut into 2 cm pieces. Peel, then chop the onion finely. Fry in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the butternut squash and fry gently until it is starting to brown. Deglaze with the wine (or Noilly Prat), add the vegetable stock and simmer until the squash is soft. Place in a food processor, add the butter and process until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Meanwhile, place the monkfish fillets in an oven-proof dish and pour over good-quality olive oil until just covered. Add the thyme sprigs, making sure they're submerged, and place in the oven. Poach for about 15 minutes.
While the fish is poaching, toast the pecans in a dry pan. Chop roughly and combine with chopped parsely leaves. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Serve the drained monkfish on the butternut squash purée, sprinkled with pecans.
* This is my adaptation of a recipe by Joerg Domansky, published in "Wienerin. Food & Style" December 2008.
** the original recipe uses less stock and adds 100 ml amaretto which I am not too keen on. The dish certainly doesn't need it, so I beg you trust me on that.