As the weather cools, my thoughts turn toward comfort food. The kind of food you look forward to on a chill evening when you want something filling, warming and satisfying.
I have been making this simple but delicious Spanish peasant food for years and it never feels to bring a satisfied hum to the table. I like to make a lot of it, far more than we will be able to eat at one sitting, because the leftovers make the base for a fantastic frittata or Spanish omelette for lunch the next day.
This is a very oily dish, and that is its secret. The secret to eating it is not to pour the oil on to your plate or dish, when serving use a slotted spoon to ensure excess oil drains away, leaving only a glistening coat of oil. The unctuous, rich, tomatoey oil that remains can be saved and used as a flavour base in another dish, or recycled as an indulgent salad dressing.
I like to use tilapia for this dish, but any firm-fleshed white fish works – cod, pollack, hake or, if you’re feeling indulgent, monkfish.
RECIPE serves 4
4 tilapia steaks or fillets
200ml olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thickly sliced
3 bell peppers, one each red, yellow and green, roughly chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
1kg firm, waxy-fleshed potatoes
a couple of generous handfuls of cherry tomatoes
In a casserole, or similar large, heavy, lidded pan, heat 5 tbsp (75ml) of the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the sliced onions with a little salt and cook gently for around 20 minutes until meltingly soft and translucent.
Add the garlic, the peppers and bay leaves. Cook on the same heat for a further 15 minutes.
Scrub the potatoes but leave the skins on. Cut them lengthways, then cut each half into two or three chunks. Sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt.
Add the remaining oil to the pan, turn the heat up, and when the oil is hot add the potatoes and tomatoes to the pan. Toss so that everything is coated in oil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are soft and yielding but retain their shape.
When you first add the potatoes and tomatoes, there will not be a lot of liquid in the pan. By the time the cooking has ended the dish will be braising in the tomato juices and the oil, infusing everything with flavour.
Turn the oven on, to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6.
About 15 minutes before the potatoes are ready, lightly season the fish and rub both sides with a little oil. Place onto a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 mins in the middle of the oven, until the fish is lightly golden and just starting to flake. The exact cooking time will depend on how thick the fish is, so keep a careful eye on it.
You can, if you wish, serve alongside a big bowl of rocket leaves but, really, this needs nothing else other than lots of freshly ground black pepper.