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Helvick Fish Pie, Butterbeans and Pear & Blue Cheese Salad

 The lengthening days are bringing the sense of a new season and, on a good day, you could easily find yourself thinking about favourite places and thoughts of taking a weekend in the country begin to surface … And the new season cookery school brochures are beginning to come in, with ideas that could give an extra dimension to a short break – one has just landed on my desk and, should you need any encouragement to head for lovely West Waterford, this could be it. 

Eunice Power is an enthusiastic cook who runs cookery classes at her guesthouse, Powersfield House, on the edge of Dungarvan town, in County Waterford. The 2006 programme is just beginning, and Friday 10th of February is for ‘Men Only’: perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day, Eunice will help aspiring chefs to “become a domestic god, as we bring you on a journey from stove to heaven…” (price EUR80, including supper and refreshments – sounds fun). Other themes include At Taste of Morocco (Sat 3rd March, EUR70, including lunch) and BBQ & Outdoor Eating (Sat 10th June & Sat 24th June, EUR100, including lunch).     

Helvick Fish PieBut, although the spring bulbs are leaping to life, there are still plenty of days ahead when spring will seem like an illusion so comfort foods like pies, casseroles and baked potatoes are likely to be the order of the day for a good few weeks to come. So what better than an old-fashioned Helvick Fish Pie from Eunice Power’s collection of wholesome recipes in the book ‘Cook with Stanley’. The fish you use for this can be varied to suit the occasion  and the season, using a whitefish or salmon as the basis for the mixed fish, and adding mussels, prawns or whatever is available at your local fishmongers. This is a useful dish to prepare ahead and chill, ready for reheating later in the day. Serves 4:


13/4 lb/800g mixed fish
12 fl oz/350 ml milk
Bay leaf
1 oz/25g butter
1 oz/25g flour
2 fl oz/50 ml white wine
2 fl oz/50 ml chicken stock
Salt & pepper
3 sprigs chopped fresh dill
3 lb / 1.3kg potatoes
Butter & milk, as required

Cut the fish into similar-sized portions, if necessary, and poach in the milk with the bay leaf, until the fish is opaque. Strain the milk off the fish and reserve for the sauce. Flake the fish off the skin, check for bones and place in a pie dish.

To make a white sauce, melt the butter and add the flour to make a roux; cook over gentle heat for 1-2 minutes, then blend in the wine and chicken stock, stirring with a whisk over moderate heat until the sauce becomes thick, then add the reserved milk as required and stir to make a thick, smooth sauce. Season to taste and add the chopped dill.

Pour the sauce over the fish and allow to cool. Peheat  a moderate oven, 350’F/180’C. Steam the potatoes until cooked, then peel and mash with the milk and butter until light and fluffy. Season to taste. Smooth the mashed potatoes over the fish and sauce in the pie dish and place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, util nicely browned.

Serve with a crisp green salad.

Ingredient of the Week:   Butter Beans 

What are they? Butter beans are also known as lima beans; they are large flat beans, creamy-white in colour and with a good flavour, and here they are usually sold dried or tinned. (Smaller young lima beans are pale green and would be sold fresh or frozen in regions where they are popular.) Like other pulses they are cheap and nourishing – they are an excellent source of protein (well-balanced when taken with grains, eg pitta bread or toast) and carbohydrate and, as they keep extremely well, they make a great stand-by.

Where can I get them? Dried and tinned butter beans are widely available in wholefood stores, grocers and supermarkets.

What do I do with them? Soak dried beans overnight in cold water, then cook in fresh unsalted water for about an hour, or until tender but still firm – do not allow them to become soft and mushy. Serve cooked butter beans warm or cold as a side dish or salad, on their own or mixed with other beans, dressed with vinaigrette (preferably a garlicky one) and scattered with chopped parsley.

Like other pulses, butter beans are perfect for this time of year, adding bulk and nourishment to slow-cooked soups and cassseroles - they marry especially well with lamb, and with soured cream and paprika (in a vegetarian goulash). The skins of dried pulses toughen when cooked in salted water so add salt only at the end of cooking. Tinned butter beans are a boon to have in the store cupboard, making an instant side dish or a very quick meal, which can be vegetarian if you like:

Set the oven to preheat at 400’F/200’C/gas mark 6. Meanwhile, soften a finely chopped onion and some crushed garlic in a little butter or oil (adding some diced bacon for extra flavour if you like); mix the drained butter beans (cooked or canned) with a can of tomatoes and their juice, and a handful of freshly chopped parsley (flatleaf has the best flavour).

Season with a light sprinkling of salt (celery salt is tasty)and a good  grinding of black pepper. Turn into a shallow baking dish and top with a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated cheese, or just grated cheese, then cook in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, or until it is very hot,and the top is well-browned and crunchy. 

Serve with a green side salad and, perhaps, some crusty bread.
 
Pear & Blue Cheese SaladPear & Blue Cheese Salad
Maybe it is just perversity on my part but I especially enjoy salads in winter -  perhaps because they make such a refreshing contrast to the warming comfort foods that suit the season so well.  This delicious little salad is made in a jiffy and suits the beginning or the end of a meal equally well. Serves 2 

Crisp seasonal salad leaves as available, eg lamb’s lettuce, raddichio, frisee, endive etc, washed & dried  2 ripe but firm pears, eg Conference, quartered, cored and sliced 75g/ 3oz blue cheese, eg Cashel Blue or Bellingham Blue,  crumbled

For the dressing: zest and juice of ½ lemon 1 tbsp poppy seeds (optional) 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil pinch of caster sugar salt and freshly ground black pepper   Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and divide between two plates; top with the sliced pear. Scatter over the blue cheese. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together then season to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve -  with some crusty bread if you choose.

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