I hate waste in all forms . Wasted time, wasted opportunities, money or effort – all fill me with dismay at the thought of limited resources. I hate wasting food, it is criminal, especially when it comes to meat. My frugal persuasion probably stems from my growing up surrounded by women who did not allow the smallest piece of meat or veg go to waste. One of my earliest memories is that of a pig being slaughtered in our garden, which is a done thing in winter time where I’m from. In a culture where everything and everybody has a purpose to fulfill it is only respectful to not allow anything to go to waste. Every last edible bit of the pig would be turned into tasty things and eaten, and this includes parts that would probably make delicate English stomachs turn. Tripe soup is a particular favourite of mine.
And so nothing warms my heart quite as much as giving a purpose and a new breath of life to a few pieces of veg well past their prime into beautiful, showstopping, anything but dull dishes. And when the humble swede gets to play the lead the pleasure is doubled. Swede is a winter time staple in my Riverford seasons veg box and frankly I am usually at a loss as to what on Earth to do with it. Last winter three sad looking swedes fell victim to neglect in my pantry, their existence forgotten because of its more appealing veg box companions every week. That was last year. That was before I discovered the amazing garlic and Parmesan mash. Which brings me to my main point – jazzing up the plain and boring.
My mum, my brother and I once ate at an Italian restaurant near my parents’ house. My brother ordered a steak, which came with a Parmesan mash. This, he swore, was even better than the meat. I remembered the Parmesan mash trick when I was yet again racking my brains trying to figure out what to do with my swede. Garlic, I thought, would make a great addition which swede should be able to pull off well, given it is more of a vegetable than the starchy potato – a fact that is well reflected in its light, aromatic, earthy flavour. And so garlic and Parmesan swede mash was born, and it is good!
So upon inspecting the contents of my ‘pantry’ I found one sad looking leek, half a swede, quarter of an onion and some wilted spinach that was left over from cooking daal. I felt disinclined to simply chuck all in a pan to make a nondescript vegetable soup, I thought there must be a better way of giving new life to this sad little bundle. I remembered the smoked river cobbler I bought in Tesco reduced section the day before, and it had to be fish pie. And a luxurious one as well, never mind the wilted vegetables – with a lush nutmeg and allspice white sauce and topped with none other than garlic and Parmesan mash.
Fish pie (serves 3-4)
2 large fish fillets – I used smoked river cobbler
2 bay leaves
a bunch of spinach
2 hard boiled eggs
1 tbsp flour or more
1/2 large or 1 small swede
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
salt & pepper
Begin by preparing the fish. In a large pan melt half of the butter, then add the fish, milk, bay leaves and a few pieces of allspice. Bring the milk to a gentle simmer and poach the fish for about 10 minutes. Pick the fish out and strain the milk.
In the meantime, cook the swede until completely soft. Strain, and put back into the pan along with the crushed garlic, then mash it. Finally, add the Parmesan and check the seasoning.
And now the sauce: you may use the same pan for this. Melt the rest of the butter and add the flour, making sure the two are mixed completely and there are no lumps. Gradually start stirring in the milk, little by little, whisking vigorously to eliminate lumps. The result should be smooth and viscous.
Begin the assembly. Flake the poached fish in a pie dish, followed by the chopped up eggs. Slice the leeks, onion and spinach and add to the dish. Finally, season well, pour the white sauce over the ingredients and give everything a good stir before covering it in a fluffy blanket of the swede mash. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 30-40 minutes or until you just can’t wait any longer.