Hake, tomato & anchovy-stuffed olive roast – happy recipe & ingredient tinkering!

Hake, cherry tomato, & anchovy-stuffed green olive roast
Tomato and anchovy olive hake-bake.

Hake, tomato & anchovy-stuffed olive roast recipe - "The pimentón imparts a lovely wood-fired spiciness.  Rather than Nocellara olives, my version of the recipe uses Spanish green Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovy puree.  This brings a wonderful, subtle seafood umami flavour to the dish but doesn't overpower the flavour balance at all."


When it comes to recipes, and cook books for that matter, I've always been a bit of a magpie. I love perusing and using them to discover how other enthusiastic cooks and foodies have combined familiar, and not so familiar, ingredients to make an enticing dish.  I remember as a child thumbing through the volumes of my parents' Supercook magazine collection, reading in wonderment the instructions on how to prepare, what seemed in the 1970s, seemingly exotic meals.  As a student, I used to snip recipes from the Sunday supplements and save them in scrapbooks for future reference. Nowadays, I can just as easily do such snipping online, of course. Yet I still love turning and gazing at the pages of cookbooks both new and old.

Now I'm not sure if it's down to my scientific background, but much as I savour a good recipe, it's not often I don't think about having a wee tinker with it.  The thought "I wonder what it would taste like if..." frequently pops into my head.  Usually my experimentation is subtle; I might substitute Rosemary with Thyme, or add a further - hopefully complimentary - spice or vegetable to the mix of ingredients.  Sometimes things go well, sometimes they are not so successful, but I like to think my tinkering never produces any total disasters.  And truth be known, I suppose it's through exactly this process that the multitude of variations in such standards as, say, pasta Bolognese, or fish pie, come into existence.

A successful example – at least to my taste buds – of my ‘freestyling’ involves a super, yet straightforward, recipe I happened across in this year’s Olive magazine calendar.  It’s for a tray roast involving cod wrapped in Parma ham, and cooked with cherry tomatoes and Nocellara green olives. A cinch to cook and, as both JML and I agreed, delicious and quite healthy to boot.  But when I thought about cooking it again a few days later, that little voice inside my head piped up “I wonder what it would taste like if it the emphasis was a bit more Spanish than Italian?”…

The cherry tomatoes and onion that form the backbone of the original recipe remain constant. But into these I stirred a generous pinch of smoked pimentón, and added two or three plump cloves of unpeeled garlic.  The latter are just to subtly flavour the sauce component of the dish, rather than dominating it, and are removed before serving. The pimentón imparts a lovely wood-fired spiciness.  Rather than Nocellara olives, my version of the recipe uses Spanish green Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovy puree.  This brings a wonderful, subtle seafood umami flavour to the dish but doesn't overpower the flavour balance at all.  If you struggle to find anchovy stuffed olives, you could substitute a couple of finely chopped tinned anchovies, stirring them into the tomatoes just before the white fish is added.

Can of anchovy-stuffed olives.
Gorgeous - cooked or not!
And talking of white fish, whilst I do like haddock and cod (as used in the original recipe) I couldn't resist using that quintessential Spanish choice that is hake (merluza).  This is a member of the cod family, and is abundant in UK waters, but most of what is caught finds its way to Spain which is definitely our loss, as the flesh is sweeter and finer textured than its more oft-consumed cousins.  A decent fishmonger should be able to supply ample hake loins fairly easily.  Following the Spanish theme, it was only natural that I wrapped the hake in Serrano - rather than Parma - ham.  I'm aware that both varieties of hams are similar in that they are salted and air dried, but Serrano ham tends to have a higher fat content and is cured longer than its Italian counterpart, and I think this gives it a greater depth of flavour.

Finally, to the herbs.  Olive’s recipe calls for the use of flat leaf parsley, which provides a fresh, grassy note to the dish.  However, I decided to swap this for two additions that gives a bit more intense flavour of the Mediterranean, in the form of a couple of sprigs of marjoram and bay leaves from the garden.   The only other change made was that I scaled down the quantity of ingredients to cater for two, as opposed to six, people but the recipe can easily be scaled up to cater for six or more.  So my Spanish-inspired recipe is set out below, whilst the original, Italian influenced, version from Olive can be accessed at the magazine's website.  Why not try both versions and tell me what you think?

Serves 2 people.  Great accompanied with steamed broad beans or a green salad, and crusty bread.

Ingredients
  • Half a red onion or two small banana shallots, roughly sliced
  • 250g of cherry or baby plum tomatoes
  • Two plump cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1tsp of smoked pimentón (paprika)
  • Olive oil
  • Two loins of hake, around 125-150g each
  • Two-four slices of Serrano ham
  • 200g tin of green Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovies
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked pimentón (paprika)
  • 2 bay leaves - preferably fresh
  • 1 sprig of fresh marjoram, leaves removed from stems (use half teaspoon of dried marjoram if fresh is unavailable)
  • Salt and pepper to season


Preparation and cooking
  1. Heat the oven to 220C / Fan 200C / gas 7. Place the onions, garlic and tomatoes in a small, shallow roasting tray or dish.  Season with salt and pepper - remember that the olives will impart some saltiness to the dish.
  2. Add three dessert spoons of olive oil (approximately 30ml) and the smoked pimentón, bay leaves, and marjoram and toss all the ingredients together until everything is nicely coated in the oil and pimentón.   Place in the oven, and roast for 15 minutes.
  3. Whilst the tomatoes and onions are roasting, wrap each hake loin in a slice of Serrano ham (you may need two slices if the loins are particularly plump).  Take the roasting tray out of the oven, add the olives and stir into the tomato and onion mixture.  Place the Serrano-wrapped hake on top of the tomatoes and olives.
  4. Return the roasting pan to the oven and cook for around a further 15 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through and the Serrano ham has started to turn crisp.  Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary, and remove the garlic cloves before serving.
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