Warm summer evenings – even if it is officially autumn now – call for summery flavours and what better than a gorgeous home-made pesto from garden herbs with a little taste of the sea. I’m lucky to have a very good fishmonger just down the road in Twickenham’s high street – Sandys. I was walking past a couple of days ago and saw they had Black Sea Bream on offer and went in. However, I decided in the end to buy a Gilt-Head Bream – one big enough for two, which I asked to be filleted so I could freeze one portion and cook the other that evening. One of my favourite cookbooks is Sophie Grigson’s Fish (even though it didn’t quite make my Top Ten). Apart from being full of wonderful recipes it’s a brilliant reference book for the fish lover with illustrations and information on most kinds of fish you are likely to come across and their name in other languages, which is very helpful for holidays. Sophie describes gilt-head bream as ‘the finest of all sea breams … an exquisite fish’. So, with my fish ready to go, I now only had the pesto to make.
Basil & Mint Pesto
Once you’ve made your own pesto, I promise you, there’ll be no going back to those jars. Traditionally made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese, you can actually use lots of other kinds of herbs instead or a mix. In this case I thought I’d add some mint to my basil and used about the same amount of each. I can tell you roughly what amounts of everything I used, but in practice, it’s what’s to hand and the flavours you like. Try experimenting.
I love the actual process of making the pesto in my nice big granite mortar and pestle; gradually seeing it all come together as the oils and flavours and smells are released. I pounded a small garlic clove with some salt then added a handful each of basil leaves and mint leaves and pounded again. Add a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts which you’ve first toasted lightly in a dry frying pan to release their flavour, and pound again. Once the pesto is all coming together, grate in a good amount (about a handful) of Parmesan cheese, some black pepper and then slowly pour in some good quality extra virgin olive oil and mix together until you have a nice, thick, gooey consistency. Check seasoning and now your pesto is ready.
Season the sea bream fillet well. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan till hot with just a smear of olive oil. Then add the fish skin side down. Press down a little bit and continue to fry over a medium heat until you see the edges are cooked and some of the flesh starts to whiten and appear almost cooked. This will take about 5 minutes or so. When the fish is almost done, turn it over to finish cooking for just a couple of minutes more. The skin should be nicely browned now. When ready, lay on a plate. I prefer to have it skin-side down when serving with pesto in this way though it looks a little more ‘restaurant’ to have the browned, crisp skin up. Spoon over some of your home-made pesto and serve with new potatoes and a nice salad on the side.
Tomorrow: I use the pesto up next day in a risotto.
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