Tomato saffron fish stew with anchovy pesto – for those needing comfort

Saffron tomato fish stew © J Horak-Druiff 2010

Don’t you just hate coming back from holiday?


You arrive back all relaxed and full of optimistic plans about how you are going to rearrange your schedule to do more yoga/cooking/writing/ sleeping/whatever… and within days you feel so worn down by the realities of daily life that you need another holiday.


Monday night as I was walking to Spanish class and Nick was just getting ready to leave home to join me, Siemens (contractors for British Gas) arrived to replace our gas meter – their idea, not ours.  They replaced it, tested the system and then said  ooooh, you have a gas leak.  So Nick questions this because a) nobody can smell gas and b) if there is a gas leak THEY caused it, otherwise surely we would have blown up the minute we returned from holiday and switched on a light!!  But they refuse to express an opinion, turn off our gas supply, and tell Nick to call Transco/National Grid to report a leak.  So he does this, and they show up sharpish, thinking they need to avert a gas explosion.  They then do their test and say no, no gas leak.  However, the Siemens guys had warned Nick that they might say this, and had told us to get them to switch the boiler back on and then test for a leak.  So Transco try to restart the boiler that Siemens had switched off (you know, the one that was running happily when Nick got home…) – no dice.  The pilot light had permanently died.  Of course, Transco can’t do boiler repairs, so they cheerfully seal off our gas supply and ride off into the sunset, telling Nick to call British Gas.


By now it is 8pm and British Gas say they’ll only visit the next day, between 12 and 6 (what – do people in this country not fooking WORK?!).  So I stay home from work all day and at 17h30 we call to ask if they are really still coming – yes of course, says the operator.  At 18h30 and facing the prospect of another day without hot water, we call again.  Oh, sorry, the engineer got stuck on a very lengthy job and can now only come tomorrow.  Will we be in?  Aaaarrgh!  No!  We bloody well won’t – we will be at work, earning a salary so we can pay our gas bill!  So no hot water for second night.  Tuesday morning the guy finally shows up at about 08h45, tinkers extensively with the boiler to get the pilot light lit, berates ME for the location of shelves that landlord put up in such a way that you have to remove the shelves from the wall in order to remove the boiler casing, and finally gets the pilot light working again so he can test for a gas leak.  And after all that he connects up his test equipment and… he declares that there was no gas leak in the first place.


Give.  Me.  Strength.


And then we get the ever amusing Very Angry Folk out there on the Internet.  God bless those Internuts.  In the space of a week, I have been variously accused in my own comments section of:

  • plagiarising a specific recipe from Recipezaar (Not even close, pal. In fact I posted the link to the alleged original recipe in the comments just so future visitors can see how not similar it is to mine.)
  • posting a snoek recipe that sounds “absolutely disgusting” because I am obviously of the wrong ethnic persuasion ever to be able to make this recipe properly (Beware, all you non-Italian bakers of pizza or non-Greek rollers of dolmades – you might be next up against the wall!)
  • corrupting the youth and spoiling everyone’s dining experience by (gasp!) daring to photograph the meal I had over 2 years ago at the Fat Duck and then double daring to leave the photos blatantly on my blog for all and sundry to see and become annoyed all over again. Because, of course, I am the only blogger ever to have done this and obviously deserve to be singled out for chastising. (But I’m touched to note that, although said commenter said he does not care what I ate, three months after first berating me he’s still reading Cooksister. Bless.)

Are you surprised that I felt in need of comfort food by last night?  Wouldn’t you have?


Every Mediterranean country seems to have its own take on a rich, soupy fish stew.  Think bouillabaisse in France,  cioppino in Italy,  zarzuela de mariscos a la Catalan in Spain, or kakavia in Greece.  Before anybody gets offended by my ethnically-incorrect cooking and attempts to club me with a large spiky fish (or other cultural weapon of their choice), this recipe does not attempt to recreate any of the abovementioned classic recipes.  But it’s low fat, soupily comforting, very tasty, and can be on the table in 30 minutes.  I served mine on tagliatelle, but crusty bread would make an equally good partner.  For me, the anchovy pesto is what really lifted this dish into weeknight dinner heaven, so don’t stint on it.


Oh, and just to avoid yet more trouble, this recipe was clipped from a South African magazine 10 years or more ago and I freely admit that I have no idea which one.  Also, please note that no other diners were offended in the photographing of this dish.

More fishy dishes from other bloggers:




20080517 - saffron fish stew 2




600g firm white skinless fish fillets
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large stick of celery, sliced
1 can plum tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
a pinch of saffron
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste




1/2 a 50g tin of anchovy fillets, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
frreshly ground black pepper



Soak the saffron in a little of the wine for 15 minutes or so while preparing the other ingredients.


Rinse and dry the fish and cut into chunks.  Mix the chopped plum tomatoes, tomato paste and herbs.


In a large saucepan over medium heat, gently sautee the onion, garlic and celery until soft.  Reduce the temperature to a gentle heat and add the fish and the tomato mix to the saucepan.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then mix in the saffron, the olive oil and the wine.


Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until the fish is just  cooked and the liquid has reduced to a thick soupy consistency.


In the meantime, pound together the pesto ingredients with a pestle & mortar to make a rough paste.


Remove the bay leaf and serve the fish stew on good pasta in shallow bowls, topped with a dollop of the pesto.


Elsewhere on the food blogs:


Peter made prawns Tourkolimano
Elise made her dad’s fish stew
Carolyn made a Nigerian fish stew
Anthony made bouillabaisse
Johanna made a Catalan monkfish and clam stew

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  1. says

    Well I for one are BLOODY OFFENDED!!! And you can tell this by the use of CAPITAL LETTERS and gratuitous use of exclamation marks!! Where in this post are the highly humorous vegetables that look like human rude bits? I mean didn’t that celery look even a little bit rude with all those tuffty bits? Couldn’t you AT LEAST have put a stick between two onions! Grief woman… have you never looked closely at an anchovy?
    Obnoxious of Oxford!

  2. says

    jeanne, i find your post very very offensive. calling hardworking gas company folks lazy and stoopid, and refusing to bathe with cold water. what kinda spoilt brat is you? huh?
    and lordy, 1/4 cup olive oil? who guzzles so much oil? 😀

  3. says

    Shame, my friend. don’t despair. I once got a very stinky letter from a magazine, accusing me of the same thing, but they never bothered to read my site first. Once they did, everything was hunky dori. This stew could brighten up my day in now time!

  4. says

    Where do the blog nuts come from? Im sorry you went through that orderal with the gas company.Dont pay any mind to the jealous odd balls with no life other than to make nasty comments to others. As for the whole nationalistic food thing, I think people need to lighten up. I dont even cook foods from my ethnic background regulary and wouldnt dare try to correct anyone that did.

  5. says

    You poor dear. I might have needed a bottle of wine after all that to go with my comfort food. Which, by the way, looks so bright and delicious.

  6. says

    Oh my. No wonder you were in need of comfort. I think even one day without hot water would be enough to cause me to pour the whole bottle of wine into the stew.
    As far as the nuts on the internet, what is in the air these days?

  7. says

    OMG! YOu’re too close to the trees to see the woods woman! I can see exactly where you have gone wrong. Whoever thought of sharing opinions? I mean what would the world come to if we all just stood up and said our piece? Far better to just go off and pick a fight somewhere. And sharing food – that would be the beginning of the end. And all this blogging stuff. It’s just giving it away for free, we should be hoarding it so we can charge. You’re obviously slowly boiling your brain with all those hot showers you are taking. Really, TRANSCO are doing you a favour. Wake up and smell the rooibos. Most South Africans are pureblooded so really a non-pureblood South African would NEVER be able to cook snoek. Unless you have english, dutch, huguneot, french, khoisan, zulu, xhosa, malay and a few of Vasco da Gama’s DNA strands all woven together and running through your bloodstream, how dare you attempt bake a bobotie, smoer a snoek or indeed cook at all? Whew! Rant over! Have I used enough exclamation marks?!!! And can I come over for dinner?

  8. says

    My goodness! Someone actually wrote that your snoek sounded ‘absolutely disgusting’? They must be particularly venomous to go to the effort of writing that. How sad. As for the plagiarism, we all know that us food bloggers take plagiarism very seriously, as it happens to us all the time. We certainly aren’t going to plagiarise something from bloody recipezaar! And, while I’m on a rant, British Gas are useless too, second only to BT – probably the most unethical company I have ever dealt with. Phew! Your fish stew looks delicious by the way ;)Anchovies are one of my fave ingredients. I feel comforted by this too.

  9. says

    should really be doing final revisions for exam tomorrow, so what on earth am i doing reading this? and laughing my head off and commiserating you at the same time? i am in dire need for some comfort, food and other, and can’t wait until tomorrow’s over.
    we’ve been struggling with virgin for over a month now to get our old phone number back which we had told them to keep from day one… plus my mobile has stopped working but orange says there’s nothing wrong and is giving me funny looks when i say i can’t manage to copy my contacts from N70 to N73 – and then have to disappear with my phones to do it “on their computer” as clearly they’re just as incompetent as I am.
    and waiting for repairmen/deliveries in this country is an absolute joke anyway – the only one that’s every on time and for whom you don’t have to take a day off work is the ocado man… oh – and bills, of course!
    love your fish stew. mmmmh! will miss fish in austria. but there’s plenty of other stuff to go through… 2 days to go!!!

  10. says

    I just saw that you were featured in the Taste magazine…I’m always behind with everything. Congratualtions, Jeanne, well deserved!
    Your saffron dish is to die for here…and I DO need comfort! Looks beautiful!

  11. Angela says

    I’m v.impressed that you cooked after all that hassle. I’d have been on the phone to the takeaway!
    The fish stew looks wonderful. I’m sorely tempted to try it–which is high praise as I ate fish almost every day as a child and am only recently beginning to enjoy it again.

  12. says

    LOL – I found this post comforting because it makes me feel less alone in the world – I have been going through some pretty dire and absurd events of late that wear me out, and I can’t wait till my holidays in just over a month’s time. This stew looks absolutely delicious – warm and comforting and the most gorgeous cheery red colour that gives you a lift just looking at it. Thanks for posting this recipe.

  13. says

    I love the look of your fish stew. I must have a go at making it, it’s so colourful. Sorry to hear you had such a horrid day.
    PS: I’ve given you an award – pop to my blog to have a look!

  14. herschelian says

    Hi Jeanne – I’ve composed a little rhyme for you:
    ‘Do not cock a snook at snoek,
    Always cook it by the book
    And never ever forget the fact
    Wat nie dood maak nie, maak vet’

  15. Michele says

    This stew was delicious! I was having a not so great day myself and this was just what i needed – quick, easy, and really delicious! I would have never thought to use anchovies in pesto but it really worked. Thanks for the inspiration.

  16. says

    I CANNOT believe that you had the audacity to entice us with notes about thrilling comments about snoek that sounds “absolutely disgusting” and didn’t give us a link to the offensive post. I NEEED to see just how absolutely disgusting it is (I know, I’m supposed to be reading regularly and maybe I did see it but didn’t know that it was absolutely disgusting because I’m probably the wrong ethnic background too.) It’s also very unkind of you to post photos of such delicious looking fish stew. Quit it.

  17. says

    Andrew – ROTFLMAO – and will nevber be able to look at either a stick of celery (whooooaarrrgh!) or an anchovy in quite the same way again. Thanks – you made my day :))
    Bee – I’ll have you know I’m slumming it bathing in warm water – I actually wanted to bathe in warm MILK!! And then have flunkies run by body all over with cups and cups of olive oil, of course :o)
    Nina – I hear you. The irony is that serious food bloggers are probably the most careful people in the world about NOT infringing copyright! And if nothing else, blogging gives you a thicker skin… Glad you like the fish stew – it should be lovely made with some fresh Cape seafood!
    Courtney – I believe gas companies are the same the world over – ghastly! And thanks for your kind words of support – the Internet sure breeds nuts who think they can hide behind thier online personae! As for ethnic cooking, you are 100% correct – lighten up people, it’s only food…
    Dragon – you read me mind – there was definitely some nice white wine to accompany this :)
    Kalyn – LOL at the though of you losing the will to live and adding a 750ml glug of wine to your fish stew :) Even without that though, the stew is lovely – do try it! And lets hope whatever nuttiness virus is in the air blows over soon.
    Oh African Vanielje, you definitely win the hotly contested exclamation point prize!! You are so right about “pure-blooded” South Africans – no such thing! We are a real Heinz 57-varieties and for anyone of us to be pointing fingers saying “of course you can’t learn to cook MY food” is ridiculous. As for sharing of opinions… that’s the beginning of the end. Next there will be dancing on Sundays and then the sky will definitely fall 😉
    Diane – thanks :)
    Helen – I know – can you believe anbody could get that worked up by a recipe posted by somebody they don’t know?? If you don’t like my recipes, head elsewhere on the web, people! And re. plagiarism, as I said as a group food bloggers are pretty switched on to the issues – anyway, you’d have to be pretty lacking in resourcefulness to swipe a recipe form one of the big sites like Recipzaar! And yes, boo sucks to BT, British Gas and all the other copmanies offering crap service while bleeding customers dry and awarding big bonuses to management.
    Johanna – flattered that my site is your preferred alternative to studying – my alternative was always rearranging my sock drawer, but that was in the days before the Net 😉 We can have a stew-off between this recipe and your lovely Petersham Nurseries one!
    Ronell – and congrats to you too for featuring alongside me! Trust me – make this stew and y owill feel better about life in general :)
    Angela – I did consider it but I knew I’d regret it… The stew was definitely eh better option!
    Cakelaw – it seems a lot of people are having a wearing time at the moment… Hope things are better now and that the holoiday did yuo a world of good. Glad also that you liked the recipe – you’ll like it even more once you taste it…
    Anh – thanks!
    Jan – it is a rather wonderful colour, isn’t it? And thanks for the award!
    Herschelian – LOL!! A rhyme in my honour – and when last did I hear that wonderful expression about wat nie doodmaak nie. Problem is most of the stuff I love (butter, cheese, foie gras) maak vet EN maak dood, LOL!
    Nic and Abby – thanks – and do try the stew, it’s so easy and fab :)
    Michele – glad you tried the recipe and that it provided the comfort as promised! The anchovies really do add the finishing touch to the flavour, don’t they :)
    Elizabeth – you hit the nail on the head – you missed out on the sheer disgustingness because your ethnic persuasion is just wrong, wrong, wrong :o) (the worst sin I coudl detect was that I left out cloves which seem to be the more traditional flavouring, mea culpa mea culpa!!). And don’t worry, I’ll delete the delicious photos at once so as to spare sensitive viewers 😉