Those of you who have read part 1 of this 2 part mini series will possibly be expecting some word play and banter around the general ‘Wisdom’ theme. Sorry to disappoint but, I am not going there again. No, this time I am going to impart some gathered wisdom around dinner party behaviour. First, I will back-fill with a little tale from my distant memory.
We had been invited to a ‘dinner party’. For a couple of reasons, my enthusiasm was not at its highest. Firstly, we got the invitation to make up the numbers for a friend of a friend. I knew the host vaguely and was not particularly enamoured by his company. Secondly, he had his own cross to bear in that his ‘other half’ was (and possibly still is) an appalling snob. I don’t operate well in such company. Long before dinner was served, I had ebbed into a state of numbness, not interested in the whittering conversation revolving around house prices, brand name shopping and exotic holidays. I have to admit that perhaps I had also allowed myself be over-served.
The meal began with a completely forgettable starter. My memory is of high-pitched, overbearing social discourse pummeling my senses. When our main course eventually arrived, a beautiful Monkfish Wellington was placed in the centre of the table, amongst the Waterford Crystal and designer silverware. “It’s monkfish, if you haven’t heard of it.” chirped our hostess. Before I had time to stop myself, I had asked the question; “Do you know what they called monkfish when I was a lad?”. “No, do tell us.” replied the hostess, seeming delighted that I had decided to join in the conversation. “Poor man’s lobster.” came my reply.
After a pretty embarrassing ten seconds or so, I went on to explain that it had not been a popular fish. It had also been used, by some unscrupulous restaurateurs, instead of prawns, in scampi. I also pointed out that many fishing boats would simply throw back the ugly fish. A fairly frosty atmosphere descended, the dinner did not really recover and to my eternal relief, I never saw that woman again.
Now for the wisdom bit. Three pieces of advice based on my experience.
- Don’t go to dinner with social-climbing snobs.
- Don’t swill too much gin before eating.
- Don’t diss the monkfish.
By way of paying homage to the ugly brute (not the snob woman) I am doing my own version of Monkfish Wellington with Beetroot Purée. There are not a lot of ingredients and I managed to show them all in the photo below.
You will need:
- A nice piece of monkfish. This half kilo served four with plenty over.
- A roll of puff pastry
- Plenty of spinach
- Parma or Serrano ham to wrap the fish
- A generous handful of pine nuts
- A handful of basil leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 4 or 5 beetroot
- Some olive oil
There aren’t many ingredients and there is very little to doing this delicious dish. First thing is to peel and chop the beetroot. Then add some olive oil.
Roast this in a 200° C oven for 30 minutes. It will come out looking like this.
Next, throw it into the blender and make a nice thick purée.
Next prepare the monkfish by trimming off the tail.
Season the fish with black pepper and brown it on a hot pan.
While the fish is resting, roast some pine nuts in the oven for 5 minutes.
When roasted, bash them into a paste along with the basil leaves.
Lay out a layer of ham on a chopping board, overlapping each slice something like in the picture.
At this stage, you have washed, steamed and drained the spinach. Time for a culinary and health tip.
Cook’s health tip: Once drained, extract excess moisture from spinach by squeezing it in a colander. Use a bowl to do the squeezing. Catch the juice in another bowl. This will give the chef a green, nutritious drink, packed with iron and vitamins. It does not taste too wonderful but it will do you good.
Spread a layer of basil / pine nut paste along the centre of the ham.
Bring the monkfish centre stage. It will have leaked a bit of water at this stage. This is a good thing as we don’t want the dish to be soggy.
See what I mean? The ham is stretched to breaking point and this is very, very delicate.
Next, lift it on to some puff pastry. No, I did not make it myself. I bought pre rolled sheets. As you can see, I needed to do a bit of engineering to get it to fit properly.
Paint it with an egg wash and throw it into a 180° C oven for 20 minutes.
Cook’s cooking tip: Keep the purée warm in a Bain Marie on the stove top. It worked perfectly for me.
Am I any wiser after cooking this delicious dish? Yes, I think so. I am reminded that it is best to only eat with friends and if you are confronted by social snobbery, put the (Wellington) boot in.