A Conclave with Blue Marlin, Harissa and Rose

 I am going to recommend an excellent book here: Conclave, by Robert Harris.  When I pulled it off my TBR stack there were doubts.  Am I really going to get into a book on a Vatican election?  A good half of the books on that TBR stack do end up (on the way out) in the NTBR pile.  Of course, leave it to Robert Harris.  A great author can do wonders with almost any subject.  And as a Wall Street Journal reviewer says, "Harris is incapable of writing an unenjoyable book"  True in this case for sure.

The story concerns a pope's death in the near future, questionable  circumstances surrounding that, as well as the gathering of cardinals from around the world, the dynamics of their views and ambitions, as well as the election itself in the Sistine Chapel, all fraught with terrorist attack, protesters, and scandal.  I totally engaged with Harris' protagonist, the Dean of the College of Cardinals (in his fictional account), Cardinal Lomeli.  A truly spiritual man was well portrayed here, with human failings and struggles, who grows stronger through this trial.  All of the characters were engagingly delineated and believable, as Harris is able to competently connect with Religious life and motivations.  The ending was a bit incredible, but a great book altogether.

Any culinary contribution, inspired by the novel, actually seems a bit prosaic, due to the subject matter, and that the food the cardinals were served while in residence at the Vatican was described as poorly prepared.   Surprising to me, as I guess we would imagine it should be comparable to White House food, which is supposed to be excellent.  Perhaps it had something to do with the previous pope, who was supposed to be an ascetic, and might not have wanted the cooks to do anything that would encourage gluttony.

Can you see the little rose petals sprinkled on top?

At any rate, I decided to make something from my saved recipes file, inspired by a major player in the book, the intriguingly mysterious new cardinal from Baghdad.  This is a recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's fabulous book, Jerusalem, which explores the vibrant cuisine of his home city--with its diverse Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian, and Armenian communities.  So, pan-fried Blue Marlin with Harissa and Rose.  He calls for sea bass, unfortunately not available here, unless you don't mind it frozen.  I substituted the marlin, a firm, hearty fish, well able to stand up to the piquant spices.  I don't know what sea bass is like, never having tried it, but this was perfect.

Pan-fried Blue Marlin with Harissa and Rose
  Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem the Cookbook

Serves 2 to 4
    • 3 tbsp harissa paste (I just used harissa spice powder, mixed with some olive oil.)
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 4 sea bass fillets, (or other firm white fish) about 1 pound / 450 g in total, skinned and with pin bones removed
    • all-purpose flour, for dusting
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
    • 6 1/2 tbsp / 100 ml red wine vinegar
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • scant 1 cup / 200 ml water
    • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
    • 1 tbsp rose water
    • scant 1/2 cup / 60 g currants (optional) (I used pre-soaked barberries with a bit of sugar)
    • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)
    • 2 tsp small dried edible rose petals
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1. First marinate the fish. Mix together the harissa paste, the ground cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Rub the paste all over the fish fillets and leave them to marinate for 2 hours in the fridge.
    2. Dust the fillets with a little flour and shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high-heat and fry the fillets for 2 minutes on each side. You may need to do this in two batches. Set the fish aside, leave the oil in the pan, and add the onions. Stir as you cook for about 8 minutes, until the onions are golden.
    3. Add any remaining harissa paste, the vinegar, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper. Pour in the water, lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, until quite thick.
    4. Add the honey and rose water to the pan along with the currants, if using, and simmer gently for a couple more minutes. (My Note: at this point, next time, I would blend the sauce ingredients smooth, maybe excepting the berries, thinning with a bit of wine - then simmer, etc.) Taste and adjust the seasoning and then return the fish fillets to the pan; you can slightly overlap them if they don't quite fit. Spoon the sauce over the fish and leave them to warm up in the simmering sauce for 3 minutes; you may need to add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce is very thick. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with the cilantro, if using, and the rose petals. 

I finally got to use the rose water, rose petals and barberries, which I had purchased with his recipe in mind.  Truly delightful flavor combinations in this dish, as Ottolenghi is well known for.  The sauce was chunky, and I would make more of a blended sauce next time. We had it with coconut Basmati rice and salad dressed with kefir, salt and a bit of cumin. Terrific pairings, in my humble opinion.

This post will be linked with the IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs) July Potluck, and with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event.  Great reading and food suggestions over there. Please do visit both sites.


Debra Eliotseats said...

Does sound a like a good read...reminiscent of Dan Brown???? I love harissa and we love to use it as a glaze an all sort of grille items.

Beth F said...

I'm surprised that the cardinals' food isn't impeccably prepared! I like Robert Harris, but somehow missed this title. Nice food and book match; it's hard to go wrong with Yotam Ottolenghi.

Carole said...

I enjoyed this book - in my mind the writing was much better than Dan Brown's. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

Mae Travels said...

Ottolenghi seems to be popular today with "Weekend Cooking" participants. I'm a big fan and have made quite a few recipes, but not this one -- I need to put it on my list. I've also eaten in the London restaurant named "Ottolenghi" for the founder.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Deb in Hawaii said...

It sounds like an interesting read and you can't beat Ottolenghi for a great recipe. I like sea bass but it's nice to use local fish and I'm sure it was just as tasty. ;-)

Judee@gluten Free A-Z Blog said...

I love that cookbook- Jerusalem. It has the best recipes. This is one I haven't tried, but we like Harissa and my husband loves sea bass. I'm putting it my list

Kim said...

Wow, this sounds like a special dish! I absolutely love harissa and look for any reason to use it. I'm with Deb, I like sea bass, but it can be hard to source and then when you find it the price is usually astronomical. The marlin sounds like a great fish to use. Gorgeous!

Lydia Filgueras said...

This sounds really good. I'm glad you were able to use the rose water and barberry ingredients, too. That's always fun.

Flourishen said...

My mouth is watering when you mention all the different spices, rose petals and barberry. You really can't go wrong with Ottolenghi.

kitchen flavours said...

I like the usage of the different spices with the rose petals and barberries. This meal looks delicious and I can imagine how fragrant it must be! Great choice for a potluck!