speedy Italian fish stew

fish stew

First up, this is not a fish stew with all sorts of shellfish, tenticles and gubbins in it. I do love those French stews, but they are a lengthy, expensive process and more likely to turn off the squeamish amongst you. This is definitely in mid-week dinner territory, although I’d be pretty delighted to have it served to me for a dinner with friends too.

One meal for the whole family

As always this is a meal the whole family can eat. The base can even be made ahead and frozen to make it an even speedier supper. It also works well if people in the family are eating at different times as the almost-finished stew can be divided and the fish added just before serving to whoever is eating that portion. The sauce flavours are familiar and Italian enough that even the fussiest of children shouldn’t take issue with the odd nugget of fish, nor does the sauce taste fishy so, if need be they can pick the fish out. No drama.

The addition of potatoes means there is no need to prepare any extra sides – although a hunk of buttered crusty bread is pretty dreamy for dunking in the juices. The other loveliness about adding the potatoes to cook in the sauce is that they soak up all the flavours as they cook and slightly thicken the sauce.

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Fish stew ingredients for 4 people – ready in 30-40 minutes

Why not double the sauce base and freeze some for another night.

1 tablespoon rapeseed (canola) or olive oil

1 large red onion

1 bulb of fennel

2 stalks of celery

2 red, yellow or orange (bell) peppers – no green peppers please!

500g (1lb) baby potatoes

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon tomato puree (paste)

a teaspoon of fennel seeds (you can use dried oregano if you don’t like fennel)

1 glass white or rose wine

1 can (400g or 14.5oz) diced salt-free tomatoes, or the same volume of passata

1-3 teaspoons red wine vinegar

750g skinned and boned cod fillet (you can use most boneless skinless fish fillets. You could use prawns instead, or as well as).

1 lemon

a handful (around 30g or 1 oz) basil leaves

To serve

Warmed crusty bread, green salad or spinach, 4 tablespoons good mayonnaise (home made, or Maille brand in the UK, Sir Kensingtons’s in the US) .

To make this fish stew:

  1. Peel and finely dice the onion. Watch my how to video here.
  2. Heat the oil in a large non stick frying pan or wok and then add the diced onion and stir. Cook on a medium high heat while you chop the other vegetables.
  3. Chop the celery by cutting 3 strips along the length and then holding the strips together, cut across them to create a small dice. Add this to the pan and stir.
  4. Cut the fennel bulb in half and dice then add to the pan and stir. If  you have any fine herby fronds, set them aside to sprinkle over the finished stew.

5. Finely chop the peppers, strips are fine, or a fine dice of they will offend anyone. See my how to video here.

6. Add the peppers to the pan. Stir and cook until the celery, onion and fennel are soft and starting to turn golden. This will take about 10 minutes from when they were first added to the pan, depending on the heat, and how small you’ve chopped them.

7. While the vegetables cook, quarter or half some baby potatoes. Add them to the pan along with a teaspoon of sea salt flakes (half a teaspoon of fine grain sea salt) and a good grind of pepper. You could add a half teaspoon of smoked paprika or some chili flakes at this stage too if you like.

8. Peel and slice the garlic and add to the pan along with the fennel seeds and tomato puree. Stir and cook for two minutes.

9. Add the wine and bubble on high for a minute. Then add the canned tomatoes and water to almost cover the vegetables, some of the veg should still poke out. Place a lid on the pan. If you don’t have a big enough lid put a baking tray or cookie sheet over the pan to cover it. Once the stew is simmering, cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

10. Once the potatoes are soft, taste the stew and add extra salt and pepper as needed. If it is watery, take the lid off and bubble until the liquid is reduced. Add red wine vinegar, starting with a teaspoon and adding more gradually until the tomato flavour tastes fresh and bright. At this stage the stew can sit for a few hours in the the pan. Or it can be chilled and kept in the fridge for 4 days, or frozen. If you are saving it for later, be sure to bring it to a simmer before adding fish at the next stage.

11. Chop the fish into thumb sized chunks and gently push them into the stew. Pop the lid back on and cook for around 5 minutes on a low heat, check after 3 minutes to see if the fish has turned opaque and flakes easily. Once it starts to flake, turn the heat off.

12. Cover the surface of the stew with the juice and zest of a lemon and a handful of basil leaves, or the fennel fronds. Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread, a green salad or steamed spinach. I like a scattering of chili flakes and a blob of good mayo on top. You might as well have the rest of that bottle of wine with it too.