In The Absence Of Cheese and Potatoes
"Are you sure you want the yellow fish?"
"But what about this fish? Which is the same but just slightly different. Tasty and smokey but not so yellow."
"I want the yellow fish though."
"Why? Why do you want the yellow fish?"
"Because that's what Batman eats."
Now ordinarily, I wouldn't put up with this sort of fuss in the supermarket. Ordinarily, I would take control, be steadfast and strong. But considering that I had just publicly vented my spleen over a display of sword fighting, with cucumbers in place of actual swords. And had run a gamut of disapproving looks and barely concealed tuts throughout the aisles as a result. Which was probably due to due to my vigorous arm pumping and shouting. "Oh those poor kids," came the whispers. I decided that any more spazing off over yellow fish was not going to help me or the children. This was, after all, supposed to be a quick shop for an easy Sunday supper. If the boy wanted luminescent, radioactive haddock to go into his pie, he could bloody well have it. Plus, a quick peep at the label revealed it had been dyed with curcumin, a natural product apparently, thus alleviating any parental paranoia about colourants and E numbers. I do care for my children you know. So we bomb it around some more, throwing food into the trolley with gay abandon, get through the checkout unscathed and make it back home in a flash, clocking in an impressive time of 20 minutes for the whole round trip. I bring the bags in, the twins go upstairs to smash their bedrooms into tiny, little pieces and I set to start making a delicious fish pie.
I then discover that I have forgotten to buy potatoes and cheddar cheese and soon afterwards fall into a cliché of Fawltyesque proportions by running into the front room, to bury my head inbetween the sofa cushions and scream. Seconds, minutes, hours pass and suddenly, I am aware of two sets of eyes burning holes into my back. I pull my head out out of the darkness, turn and stand up tall. And with lint and crumbs atop my head, I announce to the open mouthed, little people standing at my feet that we are having haddock risotto for tea. Because I knew there was arborio rice in the cupboard, which would serve as a starchy substitute for the spuds. I was unsure at first about using the cream we had bought originally for the pie but in the absence of cheese, it worked rather well and delivered quite a decadent dish in the end. A bit like kedgeree. But without the curry. Or the egg.
And then Mum returns from work. The scene around the table is silent and calm except for the scraping of spoons on china. She peers into a large, flat pan on the hob and makes a confused enquiry, "I thought we were having fish pie tonight?" And the situation is explained.
"But, look, there is a pack of cheese in the back of the fridge and there are some Maris Pipers left in the shed."
A chair scrapes back and heavy footsteps disappear off, a soft thump echoes and in the distance resonates a long, tortured, muffled howl.
"That's the second time that's happened today Mummy," says Fin, as he spoons a tiny bit of rice, straight onto Batman's firm and closed square jaw.
Haddock Risotto - serves 4
2 large fillets of smoked haddock (dyed or undyed)
1 bay leaf
10 whole peppercorns
1 pint of milk
2tbs of olive oil
knob of butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
300gms of arborio rice
1 litre of fish stock
100ml of double cream
handful of frozen peas
handful of broccoli florets, trimmed and blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes
handful of parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to season
handfull of freshly grated cheese (whatever you have to hand, in the back of the fridge)
Firstly, place the haddock fillets, bay leaf and peppercorns in a wide pan, using just enough milk to cover and bring up to a gentle simmer on the hob. Once simmering, poach the haddock for about 5-7 minutes or until just cooked through (or just under in fact). Take out of pan, remove the skin and flake into chunks. Put to one side.
In another wide pan, heat the olive oil and butter until it foams and then add the onion and celery and bring the heat down to a very gentle simmer. Cook the onion and celery slowly for at least 10 minutes or so until it becomes very soft. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook for another few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the fish stock in another pan, you could also add the poaching milk to the stock if you like.
Once the onion, celery and garlic is soft, add the rice and raise the heat, cooking the rice for a minute or so until it becomes slightly translucent. Then add a ladle of hot stock, stirring all the while. Bring the heat down again and stir the rice, adding a ladle of stock each time the liquid is absorbed into the rice. Keep doing so for about 15 minutes until the rice is soft yet still retains a slight bite.
Take off the heat and add the haddock and cream, stirring through and then add the peas, broccoli and parsley. Season to taste with salty and pepper and then cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of grated cheese.
Batman and Fin