The pleasure of sharing (+ recipe)

Michelin-starred Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli believes food should be all about friendship and welcome

Cod with Lentils. Photo / Supplied
Cod with Lentils. Photo / Supplied

We know there is more to good cooking than Michelin stars, but when you know that London-based Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli, he of the rock-star good looks, has held stars for his Locanda Locatelli restaurant since 2003 you do want to find out more. He espouses the Italian notion of "la convivialita" - the spirit of conviviality, the pleasure that comes from sharing a meal with others. He likes to know where his food comes from, even to the extent of heading out on the fishing boats off the coast of England so that he can "tell the story of the fish. We have to be passionate about where our ingredients come from." Family, and his home in little village in Lombardia in northern Italy, have helped create a chef whose restaurants that are truly about friendship and welcome.

For this recipe, if you cannot find cod, chefs at the Auckland Fish Market recommend other firm fish such as ling, monkfish or gurnard. Try to source Italian green lentils. Locatelli always throws in four handfuls of fresh or frozen peas to sweeten the vegetable stock.

Cod with lentils

I made this for the first time in Olivio. I happened to have some lentils for another dish. I put the two together and thought the flavours were amazing: the flakiness of the fresh cod worked really well with the flouriness of the lentils. In Italian cooking you find some stews of fish with lentils, but they are longer-cooked, whereas part of the pleasure of this dish comes from the crispy skin of the pan-fried cod.

4 large cod fillets, each about 220 g
3 Tbs sunflower or vegetable oil
50g butter, diced
a few rosemary leaves to garnish
salt and pepper

For the lentils:

250g green lentils
1 white onion
1 celery stalk
1 small leek
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
100g piece of unsmoked pancetta
sprig of rosemary
small bunch of sage
2 bay leaves (tie all the herbs together)
1.5 litres vegetable stock
handful of parsley, chopped
50g butter, diced

For the parsley sauce:

2 handfuls of parsley
100ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 Prepare the lentils: soak them in water for half an hour, then drain. While they soak, finely chop the vegetables.

2 Heat about half the olive oil in a pan and add the chopped vegetables and the piece of pancetta. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not coloured, so that they release their sweetness, flavour and moisture into the lentils.

3 Add the lentils together with the herbs and cook for 5 minutes, stirring until everything is well mixed and the lentils start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Don't season at this point as salt will make the lentils harden.

4 Add around a litre of stock (to cover the lentils by about a finger) and keep the rest hot on the hob in case you need it. Bring the contents of the lentil pan to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes until the lentils are soft, adding more stock if they begin to get dry. Remove the pancetta and keep the lentils on one side, but keep the stock hot in case you need to loosen the lentils before serving.

5 Put the two handfuls of parsley into a food processor with the olive oil and blitz as quickly as possible until you have a bright green sauce.

6 Season the fish. If you have two large non-stick frypans, heat at the same time and divide the oil between them.

7 When it is just beginning to smoke, put in the fish, skin side down, and keep pressing down and checking underneath - the skin should turn crispy and golden brown. You will see the flesh beginning to turn opaque. When it has turned white almost all the way through, turn it over. Divide the butter between the two pans.

8 While the butter is foaming, put the pan of lentils back on the heat - they need to be the consistency of a risotto, not "soupy", or they will be too loose when you add the butter; so, if necessary, drain off a little of the liquid. If the lentils are not loose enough, add a little of the hot stock. Add the parsley and stir in the butter. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

9 Spoon the lentils on to the plates, with the parsley sauce on the side. Spoon the butter juices over the top of the fish, lift the fish out and serve on top of the lentils.

* Made in Italy Food and Stories by Giorgio Locatelli with Sheila Keating, photographs by Dan Lepard, $49.99, published by Fourth Estate London, distributed by Harper Collins.

- NZ Herald

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