From the dining table, where I sit to work, our garden is looking peppy. Tomatoes and yellow squash are growing around the crumbly cement steps up to the kitchen and a bed of delicate lettuce, recovering from a bunny attack in the front, also looks fresh and beautiful with the delapitated cement stoop behind it. Our house is owned by the hospital and we are grateful for it — but particularly in summer it becomes unignorably apparent that nature is, shall we say, reclaiming the property. A spider lives in each of six downstairs window and in the evening, without fail, even in a huge thunderstorm, they come out to wait on their webs. We call them “the ladies.” From the garage runs a small stream into our basement and from the roof, the water seeps into the walls creating strangely beautiful topography in the plaster.
Making this place home takes some work. It can feel like jogging up a steep hill; trying to put love into a place you do not own and will leave in 2 years. Still, the effort feels important as a new family of two. While we do not have the resources for a needed new roof (and neither does the landlord), we do have the wherewithal to grow some of our own food and make dinner. Both are quite powerful in the face of the unfixable. During the week dinner is very simple; salad with chickpeas and feta or curry and rice. But on the weekends and when it’s too rainy to play over at the lake and there’s a new one forming in your garage, it’s nice to focus on cooking something a little more elaborate. We are proud of our creation and spend the meal making more plans for improvement.
A few weeks ago, I thought that rain called for something made on the stove. I had just watched Bittman make his oh-so-simple, vegetable friendly bouillabaisse and this lead to perusing the Times food section and eventually looking at the recipes on the site for Ripert’s show Avec Eric. His beautiful Korean Style Shrimp Bouillabaisse dish immediately got me thinking. Usually I make things for which I can easily get the ingredients, but alas …Pernod and saffron are hard to come by. And, of course, we have a tub of Gochujang in fridge via the wonder that is Amazon Prime. I could skip the Pernod. I had thriving herbs to add, even if that was not traditional. The result was a simple bouillabaisse style soup with cod, fennel and potatoes. Add garlic toasts and “aioli” and you have yourself something very, very good.
Easy Bouillabaisse, serves 4
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 heads fennel, fronds removed (reserve a few for garnish) and small diced
- 3 leeks, sliced, then washed
- 3 heads garlic, 2 peeled and sliced , one left whole
- 2 medium tomatoes; peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 3 tablespoons Gochujang (or 1 tablespoon red chili flakes)
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 2 Yukon gold potatoes; boiled whole, peeled, and medium diced
- 2 lb. cod
- Baguette for serving
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 cup mayonnaise
For the soup, prep your vegetables (make sure that ornery sand is out of your leeks) and heat a medium sized pot over medium heat with oil. Add the fennel, leeks, and garlic to sweat until tender. Add the chopped tomatoes and Gochujang and cook down until most of the water is cooked out. Pour in the chicken stock and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the diced potatoes and cook for about 3 minutes, then add the cod (you can cut it into portion sizes, but it will fall apart nicely) and cook for another 2 minute. Turn off the heat and let the fish finish cooking in the hot liquid.
To serves, a low, wide bowl is pretty. Spoon the vegetables on the bottom of the bowls. Arrange the fish on top of the vegetables. Garnish the top of the bouillabaisse with a garlic toast* that is spread with aioli* and the reserved fennel fronds.
Garlic Toasts*: Slice a baguette or any kind of rustic white bread thinly. Toast, drizzle with oil on both side and rub with a garlic clove while still warm.
“Aioli”” — Mix some lemon juice into Hellmans. It works.