Pretty much every Wednesday morning during term time for the last three and a half years, I've been taking, first the big Tonju, and now the little one, to a playgroup in my area. This playgroup, I have to say, is simply the best one I've been to. It is held in a chapel and the pastor who runs it couldn't possibly be more enthusiastic and engaging with both the children and the parents. Everyone talks to everyone and there is such an informal and welcoming atmosphere that new parents feel at ease on their first visit. It has been a great blessing to be able to attend such a place, and has really helped me personally, with big Tonju's transition to nursery, knowing so many local mums and also the vibrant community initiatives, including the playgroup, which are going on underneath my nose.
One admirable such initiative is something I'm aware of because of attending the playgroup. Local supermarkets donate food which is close to its expiry date to a local forum with which the chapel, and particularly the pastor, are heavily involved. The food is distributed equally into 30 bags, with a range of items in each bag, and the bags are then handed out to people who are not in the position to be able to afford the contents of the bags for the full price. A fantastic use of food which would ordinarily go to landfill, which is outrageous in itself. Anyway, because the chapel is the "distribution centre" for these bags of food, it means the chapel is left with an amount of food left over each week which they haven't been able to add to any bags, I believe due to the sheer amount of food they've been given. The playgroup then lays out what they have left, and parents can take their pick and make a donation to the forum, which goes back into the community.
So last week I left with my bag of goodies, which included a packet of fresh linguine, and, since I usually purchase dry rather than fresh pasta, I thought it would be a good opportunity to come up with something original, rather than following a recipe. I then decided the recipe should be made up only of items I already had at home, and that it should include fish, and be creamy. I had a quick browse in the fridge, freezer and cupboards, and thus, Creamy Cod with Leeks and Linguine was born. And if you want some justification for cooking it, Husb said I should cook a meal like this every night, so it went down well!
1 cod fillet per person, fresh or defrosted from frozen
Handful prawns per person
Bag fresh linguine
1 - 2 onions
2 -3 leeks
300 ml chicken stock
100ml white wine
100ml double cream
One large or two small bay leaves
Fresh flat-leaf parsley
20g butter and/or slug of olive oil
Place a deep frying pan on the hob and put butter and/or olive oil on a medium heat, taking not to burn the butter.
Slice onion and leek and add to pan along with the bay leaves.
Cook gently for around ten minutes until onion and leeks are soft. Season.
Whilst the onions and leeks are cooking prepare the white wine and stock, ready to add to the pan.
Once you've seasoned the veg, add the white wine, increase the heat so it gently bubbles, and reduce until most of the wine has evaporated.
Add the stock to the pan, then place the fish and prawns as much beneath the surface as possible.
Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for around seven minutes, until the fish and prawns are cooked. At the same time as adding the fish, put on a saucepan of water for the linguine, and bring to the boil.
Remove the cod fillets and place them aside for a few minutes, turn up the heat and reduce the sauce to make it much thicker.
Add linguine to boiling water, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 2 -3 minutes.
Measure out cream.
Return the cod to the pan and flake into smallish pieces, around 1", and mix in.
Add the cream and mix it all in nicely.
Warm back up to serving temperature and drain the linguine.
Serve. Place the linguine into bowls, top with the creamy fish and finish with a generous sprinkling of parmesan and chopped flat-leaf parsley.
Please ignore that rather conspicuous bottle of Bishop's Finger ale: it was actually for a steak and ale casserole I made this evening, and I tend to choose the most reasonably priced ale when using it for cooking, as neither Husb or I would actually drink it! I had yet to put it away.
The general consensus
The fresh linguine worked really well with the children, as fresh pasta has more of a tendancy to stick together than dried, which meant it clumped together a little and could be chopped up and easily combined with the fish and leek sauce. This made it much easier for the boys to get a good mouthful of everything on their forks. I have to say, they loved it. Big Tonju declared it was the best meal ever; quite an accolade!
If it's helpful, for a family of four with two adults and two under fives, I used three cod fillets and two generous handfuls of prawns. Just use as much as you know you like to eat. The same with the leeks. It's not the kind of meal where the amount of main ingredients will affect the outcome particularly, other than giving you a larger portion on your plate. If you only have dried linguine to hand, use that, or indeed any other pasta shape you like. I think it's a really liberating feeling to know one doesn't need to stick rigidly to a recipe, but can rather use it as a guide, amending where one sees fit (or knows better!)
I hope you enjoy it, thanks for reading :)