You wouldn’t expect the Irish Passport Office in London to be quite a fun place to hang out, but you’d be wrong. To begin with, you’re guaranteed at least an hour of enforced solitude and relative calm – reason enough to wander in there. You can browse some magazines, listen in astonishment at just how much Irish people love to talk (we really do) - and if you’re really really lucky you might stumble upon Paddy Scandahooligan.
Way way way before children I went on a
drinking hiking holiday with three girlfriends to Crete. When we weren’t drinking hiking we
were laughing – mainly at all the nudies on the beach (so mature) – and into
all of this strode a tall, very blonde, very
red-faced Scandinavian man. At least
until he opened his mouth, and out fell pure West Cork. For some reason we christened him Paddy
Scandihooligan and, as these things go, he became our great friend for the two
weeks we were there, and was never thought about again.
Until Monday morning – for there he was!* In the flesh! Still blonde, still red-faced, still booming incomprehensively in a raw Skib accent. I texted the girls, who all shrieked with glee, and demanded I go and say hello. I was tempted, but shyness (whooda thought?) got the better of me. On the (very remote) off chance that he remembered me at all, I thought he might rather remember the blonde care- (and fringe-) free creature I once was. (Also – and more pertinently – once you get past the “Hello!” and “What have you been up to?” you then have to sit there in awkward silence for the rest of the morning, willing the solitary counter-worker to just getamoveon.)
So instead I amused myself with the conversation going on behind me between a jolly-faced American man, and his jolly-faced American wife.
“So when you get up there, you’ve gotta say “Slan””
“No. Sla-an. It means hello.”
“That’s right. Slan. It’s Gaelic for hello. Just say it! They’ll be so impressed.”
Now I KNOW I should have corrected them – Slán (pronounced, as she had so rightly guessed, “slawn”) is, in fact, Irish for Goodbye. But they looked so pleased with themselves that I didn’t want to burst their bubble. And also – obviously - I wanted to see what would happen.
Up she skipped. “Sla-an!” she declared. No response. “SLA-AN!” The woman behind the counter grinned painfully, and turned her attention to the paperwork. Jolly-faced Amercian woman looked deflated and her husband was no doubt thinking – perhaps rightly - Bloody Unfriendly Micks.
Now somewhat bored – an unfamiliar sensation I enjoyed thoroughly - I turned my attention to a discarded supermarket magazine; the usual advertising tripe, but a recipe tucked amongst it, declared to be “far better than the sum of its parts”. So I bought the un-summed parts and cooked it up for friends on Saturday night, adding olives to give it some extra oomph. We declared it a triumph. It was jolly, and shiney and - not unlike the Irish Passport office itself – definitely more than the sum of its parts.
(Looking at this in the cold light of blogging day, it looks a bit... regurgitated... IT WASN'T. Although I did take the pic when I was a bit pissed, so... No, I'm pretty sure it went straight from the pan to the plate.)
For 4 (with leftovers) you need:
- Two large onions, chopped
- Olive Oil
- 2 bay leaves (dried, or pinched from your neighbour’s front garden)
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- Couple of handfuls of black olives, de-stoned (I recommend buying the stoned ones and cutting the flesh off the stone; a bit of a pain, but they taste much better)
- 300ml white wine
- 2 tins chopped / plum tomatoes
- 500g Cod Fillets (or other firm white fish. In which case change the name of the dish)
- Couple of handfuls of parlsey, chopped
In a deep pan, fry the chopped onions over a medium heat for about 10 mins. Stir from time to time, then add the garlic, bay leaf and olives. Leave (leaf!!) for a couple of minutes then turn up the heat and add the wine. Leave to bubble for a few minutes until it has reduced by about half.
Add the tinned tomatoes and 200ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 mins, uncovered.
[At this point you can leave the sauce and take up the recipe later – either put it in the fridge overnight, or freeze it.]
Season with salt and pepper.
Cut the cod into large chunks, about 2 inches long. Add to the sauce, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes (depending on thickness of fish), until it’s opaque. Mix through the parsley then serve.
Eat with green salad, fancy bread, or – to bring a touch of Paddy to your plate - a big bowl of spuds.
*(Rather freaky update: While standing shivering in the park yesterday, who should jog past me – twice - but... Paddy S! Suspect am now going to see him several times a week for the rest of my life.)