I suppose this is a story of how thrift can contribiute to creativity.
I was clearing up a small store cupboard a few weeks ago and came across a half finished box of Kroepoek – Kroepoek is the original Asian snack made from fresh shrimps and tapioca flour. It is deep fried the way pappadums are, and kroepoek (pronounced “crew-pook, with pook rhyming with book – isn’t that correct Stefan?) look like tiny pappadums now that I think of it, and take no time at all to fry. I had bought the box back in January and had served them for an Asian themed family dinner, and fond though the memory of that evening was, I had also to deal with a gnawing sense of nostalgia creeping into my veins. I hate it when that happens. Once I finished frying them and had eaten a few, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of them. I just didn’t have the heart to throw them away, so stuck them in the oven to deal with the next day.Here are the fried kroepoek …
The next day I also had to deal with some tomatoes that were very pretty, yes, but that were also getting perilously close to losing their freshness.And I had bought some salt cod that morning. Baccalà.
And I had also bought some kale – cavolo nero or cavolaccio.
I posed myself a little culinary challenge – how could I come up with a dish using all these ingredients?
I began with the tomatoes and started making a very plain salsa di pomodoro.
I roughly cut up the tomatoes and let them simmer over a medium and then low heat until they fell apart – about 15 minutes. I used some tongs to get rid of the skins, and got rid of them. I then dribbled a good bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt … I tasted the salsa/sugo and it was sweet enough, it did not need any sugar. I added some fresh basil leaves. I continued to let the salsa simmer for about another five minutes and then switched off the heat. At that point, I added a spoonful of butter and put the salsa aside.
I poured some olive oil into a nice big frying pan and added a handful of guanciale (cured pork jowl) and then a little bit of garlic. After a few minutes this is what you get … And this is when it’s time to add the kale … be careful! It splutters. Best to add the kale a little at a time … The kale wilts almost immediately. Cook for a few minutes and then add some white wine. Sprinkle a little bit of salt, put the lid on the pan and cook until the kale is tender. And here is what you end up with. Set aside. Here is the baccalà, with its skin on. It’s not that hard to trim the baccalà of its oily skin. I suppose one could do something intelligent with the skin but the only thing I could think of that evening was to throw it away (I don’t have a cat either). I cut the baccalà into cubes. The fish on the right hand side of this photo? I stored it in the freezer for future use. I now placed a few slices of lardo into the frying pan, together with some rosemary sprigs. Turn the heat on … I let the lard cook without any olive oil at first and then added it: the lard renders into the olive oil, and the rosemary infuses this delicious fat component. While this has going on …. I used the kale to cover the bottom of a serving dish, a bit like a mattress. I began cooking the baccalà … it takes very little time to cook, less than two minutes. The lardo was crispy enough … out of the pan and onto the serving dish.Turn the baccalà over very carefully, using two spoons if it helps.
And now serve ! I poured dollops of the tomato sauce on top of the kale and then placed the baccalà on top of that. I put kroepoek all around the serving dish. It looks a bit overcrowded in this photo, sorry. Here is the dish served on the dinner plate. Just one kroepoek to give the dish a crispy element.So … did all the ingredients blend together okay? Ahem … not saying this recipe can’t be improved upon but yes, I’d say it was pretty good. The kroepoek delivered a little crunch … there was plenty of taste … the tomato sauce provided a dash of acidity and the kale a pinch of bitterness. Surprisigly, the baccalà held its own. Baccalà is a proud fish, it’s hard to cover it up.