I am always drawn to recipes with non-descriptive titles. It’s all very well and easy to call a plate of pasta with tomato sauce, erm, pasta with tomato sauce. True, but not as enticing a name as it could be. Just think of other famous pasta sauces whose names don’t give clues about the ingredients in them, their origins lost in time: all’amatriciana, alla puttanesca, al ragù. The truth is that it is much easier to describe what’s in a dish by listing its main ingredients: parsnip and lentil soup, with lemon and cumin. Simple peas with ham and parsley. Orzotto with thyme, lemon and pecorino. However, a bit like when you judge a book by it cover (literally or not), there is a big difference between calling a sauce Romesco, or calling it smoked red pepper sauce. Do you prefer a recipe name to tell things as they are, or have you too got a soft spot for evocative, inexplicable dish names?
At times, even when the name of a dish is descriptive enough, the taste it evokes is foreign. Which is exactly what happened while flicking through this mezze cookbook I found myself looking at the title ‘Mackerel and halzenut dip’. Sure I knew how mackerel tasted like – it’s one of my favourite fish. Hazelnuts? Huge fan. And yet, I couldn’t imagine how the dip would, on the whole, taste like. Really, really tasty, as it turns out. We ended up making it a few times since – I even fed it to my family last year at our Christmas Eve dinner. They all had a hard time guessing the ingredients. It is impossibly creamy, yet not at all whipped and empty like the various dips you find in supermarkets. As for the taste, now that I know what it’s like, I’ve decided not to tell you. It’s above and beyond what you might think. It’s delicious in an unexpected and curious way, and I will be forever grateful to Anissa Helou for putting the recipe in her book.
In a pan, lightly toast the hazelnuts over a low heat. Shake the pan frequently to prevent burnt spots. Once the skins open up and crackle when touched, put the hazelnuts in a tea towel or clean cloth and scrunch it up for a good while, until the skins have come off the hazelnuts. Leave to cool. Place the onion, parsley, a pinch of sea salt and the mackerel fillets in a frying pan, cover (just) with water and cook the fish until it flakes and is no longer translucent, just matte and white all over. Take the fillets out and let them cool. Discard the cooking water. When the fish has cooled down, break it up in a bowl with your fingers, discarding any bones you come across as well as the skin. Finely grind the hazelnuts in a food processor, along with the garlic cloves. To the fish bowl, add ground hazelnuts and garlic and breadcrumbs. Mix and add the vinegar. Depending on your preference, you might want to add some water to make it creamier. Taste and season accordingly. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.