Technically this is a twist on a classic French 'Spring' dish but I have become so bored of winter roots and greens that I broke my cardinal rule and bought a courgette out of season. Against a backdrop of global financial meltdown and unrest in the middle east, I see this as a minor misdemeanour on my part. I would rather you look upon this recipe as my effort to prepare your culinary repertoire for the oncoming change of season!
Pistou is a French version of Italian pesto minus the pine nuts. I also left out the parmesan so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the cod. This is a little cracker of a dish, healthy, filling and soothing. It also yields lots of left over ham hock for the coming weeks sandwiches. For four:
Unsmoked (green) ham hock - 1
Thick cod fillets- 4x175g
Carrot - 1 large
Courgette - 1
Onion - 1 small, peeled
Leek - 1 small, well washed of grit
Waxy potato - 1 medium, peeled
Peas - 2 large handfuls
A large handful of a dry chickpeas.
Pasta (I used penne but any small shapes would work) - 2 handfuls
Basil - 1 bunch
Garlic - 1 fat clove
Olive oil - a good splash
Best olive oil - 50ml
Lemon - a squeeze
Soak the ham hock and chickpeas overnight in cold water to remove excess salt (from the ham - not the beans!). Change the water and put the chickpeas and the hock in a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skim any scum then turn down the heat and simmer (covered) for 3 hours. The ham is cooked when you can pull the small bone from the hock with little effort. Remove the hock and allow to cool. Strain the stock reserving the liquid and put the chickpeas to one side. When the hock is cool, pick and shred the meat and discard the bones and fat.
Heat your oven to its hottest. Chop all of your vegetables into 1cm dice. In a roomy pan, gently fry the onion, carrot and leek in the olive oil (not your best) until just starting to soften. Get a non-stick, metal handled frying pan on the heat for the cod. Return the chickpeas to the pan along with the pasta. Just cover with stock and return to the boil, simmering until the pasta is almost cooked.
Season and fry the cod in olive oil (skin side up) until starting to colour underneath. Transfer to the oven to cook through. Add the peas and courgette to the soup along with a good handful of ham hock and continue to simmer until all the veg are perfectly cooked - you want almost soft vegetables in this dish, not al dente.
Quickly bash up the basil and garlic with the good olive oil in a pestle and mortar or food processor with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper - you want a rough pesto like consistency. The cod is cooked when you can tease open the cod flakes and the centre is cooked through and not translucent (don't be too rough or you will destroy your cod fillet!).
Check the seasoning in the soup - you probably won't need salt but you will need pepper. Bowl up the soup and drizzle with the pistou. Remove the skin from the cod fillets - it should just pull off. Serve the cod in the soup flipping the fillet so the golden side is uppermost.