We slip easily into the holiday routine of slummocking around in pyjamas until late*, hasty individual breakfasts foraged from unfamiliar cabinets, large gin-and-tonics before lunch, books and naps after, followed by little excursions to a village, a monument, a garden, a beach or the bright lights of Skibbereen, then the inevitable slouch towards Campari-and-sodas or stouts in the pub and dinner.
One excursion to Union Hall included a trip to the excellent fishmonger, supplied daily by the town’s own small fishing fleet. If you’re nervous about cooking fish, especially for a crowd, especially if the only frying pan at your disposal is a mean and wretched thing, bake it in a roasting tin on top of all of your vegetables.
*DISCLAIMER I need to exclude my father from the slummocking business. A June baby, according to family legend he was born wearing a light-coloured checked shirt and a good sweater.
One-dish white fish
You can scale this up or down, depending on the size of the oven and roasting tin at your disposal and the number of people around your table. I used whiting, but pollock or any other white fish would work well too. You can add a handful of black or green olives when you add the fish and mussels if you like.
Enough potatoes for 4 people, scrubbed and cut into wedges
3 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
Juice and pared zest of 2 lemons (use a vegetable peeler to pare the lemons, making sure you scrape off any white pith)
2 red peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
4-6 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 fillets of whiting
A couple of handfuls of cleaned mussels
A handful of parsley, tough stalks removed and chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/370ºF/Gas mark 5. Scatter the potatoes and onions in a large roasting tin, pour over a glug or two of oil, the zest and juice of one of the lemons and season well with salt and pepper. Toss everything together with your hands and cover tightly with foil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes and remove the foil. If the potatoes are tender (if not, re-cover them and cook for a bit longer), mix with the peppers and garlic and return, uncovered, to the oven and bake until the peppers are soft and the potatoes start to take on some colour, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in the parsley, and lay the seasoned fish fillets over the top. Scatter on the mussels, add the remaining lemon zest and juice and cover tightly with a double layer of foil. Return to the oven for about 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through and the mussels opened. Serve with more lemon wedges on the side.
Today’s holiday reading:
Julia was making flaky pastry. Oliver liked to sit watching her folding in lard, rolling, folding, turning. The quick movements of her strong wrists, powdered with flour, pleased him. Mrs Lippincote’s old mixing-bowl pleased him, too. The creamy glazed earthenware was scribbled over faintly with sepia cracks, and a spiral of indigo wound thickly round it. He was probably the only person who had ever thought it beautiful. Julia stamped out the centres of the vol-au-vent cases and took the baking tray to the oven. She knelt there, sodding and blasting with the heat puffing over her red face, and brought out another tray of pastry. “Risen beautifully,” she told herself. She began to clear up and Oliver returned to his arithmetic book. “Nine and nine is eighteen,” he began to drone. Roddy had said he shouldn’t go to school until the next term, but get his strength up instead, run wild a bit. Oliver simply didn’t know how to run wild, so he sat in the kitchen and watched his mother. And five is twenty-three.
From At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor, 1945