With a taste between celery and parsley but more sophisticated, young Alexander leaves can be roughly chopped and used to garnish colourful dishes like the above and used to make an aromatic marinade. Growing on cliff tops and in seaside hedgerows, these bright leaves complement fish dishes.
In this recipe, cod fillets are marinaded in lemon juice, blitzed Alexander leaves, capers, garlic, anchovies and olive oil then baked in parchment, served steaming and topped with black olives and fresh wild leaves. The flakey cod is plated alongside roast hasselback potatoes (or however you like them) with dried Mugwort leaves, caramelised roast fennel and sticky heritage tomatoes. This dish really is an eccentric celebration of the sea and it's sharp, salty flavours.
This recipe is once again inspired by ingredients sent in this month's Forage Box, a subscription service delivering a monthly collection of wild/foraged foods. Forage Box aim to provide home cooks like me with 'snapshots’ of wild flavours and to showcase their potential in the kitchen. From syrups to salts, freshly picked to powdered, juice to jam, their foraged ingredients will delight and surprise you. Find out more information on the subscription and how to sign up here.
*You will need a food processor for this recipe
pinch of saffron
1 egg yolk
1 small garlic clove
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
100ml olive oil
POTATOES, FENNEL AND TOMATOES
½ tsp dried thyme, or dried Mugwort leaves
½ tsp flaked sea salt
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
4 tbsp melted butter plus a little extra
4 small–medium potatoes, scrubbed (ideally, all-rounders or floury potatoes)
1 small bulb of fennel
handful of small heritage/plum/cherry tomaotes
COD & MARINADE
2 large handfuls of Alexander leaves, rinsed well and roughly chopped
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tsp small capers
2 tinned anchovies
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
2 cod fillets
small handful of black olives, chopped
2-3 caper berries, chopped (optional)
Best made ahead of time and chilled, start by making your saffron aioli. Put the saffron in a small bowl with 1 tbsp boiling water. Leave for 10 mins to cool and for the water to turn a golden colour.
Meanwhile, put the egg yolks, garlic, mustard and lemon juice in a jug or a tall container with a pinch of salt and blitz with a stick blender (or in a food processor) until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil, a small drizzle at a time, keeping the blender on, until you get a thick, glossy mayonnaise. Season with black pepper, then stir in the saffron water to loosen the aïoli and turn it a golden hue. Cover the surface and chill until ready to serve. Add a splash of water or lemon juice, to serve, if your aïoli thickens up too much in the fridge. If you have any spare, this remarkable stuff can be served with chips or on the side of a homemade fish pie.
POTATOES, FENNEL AND TOMATOES
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6. Lightly oil a baking tray. Mix the dried Mugwort leaves (or thyme) , salt and pepper in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter into a second bowl.
Place each potato on a wooden spoon and using a sharp knife with a thin blade, cut the potatoes very thinly and vertically almost all the way through – the knife will stop slicing when it meets the spoon. Each slice should be a little narrower than a pound coin.
As you prepare each potato, add it to the butter and turn to coat, then add to the seasoning mix and rub all over the potato, making sure a little of the seasoning mix gets in between the slices.
Place the potato on the baking tray, cut-side up. Prepare the remaining potatoes in the same way. Drizzle any remaining butter over the potatoes and bake for 40-50 minutes, basting halfway through.
Meanwhile, slice your fennel bulb lengthways ready for roasting. Add to the bowl of butter and coat in any of the residue, drizzle with a little more oil as needed, season and place on a baking tray. Roast the fennel slices for 25 minutes until caramelised, with 10 minutes to spare, season the tomatoes, drizzle with a little oil and add to the same tray as the fennel.
COD & MARINADE
Whilst your vegetables are roasting, start preparing the cod. In a small food processor, blitz 3/4 of the Alexander leaves (saving the rest to garnish later), along with the garlic, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Season to taste and stir through the lemon juice and zest.
Season each cod fillet generously with salt and pepper and place on a square sheet of baking parchment, spoon over the marinade with a teaspoon, sprinkle with the black olives and seal your parcel by folding the parchment over itself. Repeat with the second fillet and then bake in the hot oven for 20-25 minutes until the fish is opaque and starting to flake.
Remove the fish and vegetables from the oven and prepare to serve, topping the cod fillets with fresh Alexander leaves, caper berries (if you have any) alongside the potatoes, fennel, tomatoes and droplets of garlicky and golden aioli.