Smoked Trout, Caramelised Leek and Fennel Baked Mornay

Technically it may be spring but us Victorians are still in the grip of winter.  Whilst little pink peach blossoms and tiny green shoots on the silver birch tree have appeared in my garden this week, its still rainy and cold outside, and I’m not quite ready to embrace salads and grilled fare.

This dish is the perfect in between seasons dinner recipe – its filling but has fresh flavours. It does sound rather stodgy with the pasta and potatoes, but the fish and herbs bring lightness. Besides, you only need small serves, and if you make a lovely salad to go with it, then you have perfect balance.

Smoked trout is wonderful – its softer and drier than smoked salmon, but so tasty, and it goes perfectly with fennel.

Allow a few hours to make this – it is more time consuming than you’d initially think.  You could make the mashed potato, cook the pasta, and prepare the trout ahead of time.

This will serve about 6 adults.

  • 1 whole smoked trout (from fish shop, market or good deli)
  • About 300 grams of medium sized dried pasta, such as penne (a bit over half a standard size packet)
  • 4 large potatoes that are good for mashing, such as dutch cream, coliban, or royal blue (see my guide)
  • Butter
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, washed carefully and thinly sliced
  • Olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed (get the tiny little ones if you can, if not, chop them a little)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Small handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 and a half cups of grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt  & pepper
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Step 1. Make the mashed potato.  Cut the peeled potato into slices or chunks, and boil until soft.  Drain and mash with some butter, a little squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a little milk if you wish, depending on how dry the potatoes are.  Add the chopped parsley and mix through.

Step 2.  Cook the pasta.  You know how to do this.

Step 3.  While the potatoes and pasta are cooking, begin to prepare the trout.  Slice the skin off – it will be quite leathery and oily, and will easily come away from the flesh.  Very carefully pull the flesh off the bones, taking care to remove all the tiny little bones, and put the flaked flesh into a separate bowl.  When you’ve done one side, you should be able to lift the bones off in one piece from the other side.  You’ll still need to carefully flake the fish and remove any residual bones.  When all the flaked flesh is in the bowl I give it a final pick over with a fork just to check for any stray bones.

Up to this point, everything can be done in advance.

Step 4. Prepare the sauce.  First, heat the oven to 180 degrees.  In a large heavy based pan, heat some olive oil over a medium heat and saute the leeks, stirring, until quite  golden – about 10 minutes.  Add the fennel, and saute until very soft, for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the dill and stir through.  Add the flour and coat the leeks and fennel, stirring for a few minutes to cook the flour a little.   Heat the milk in the microwave, reduce the heat, and slowly add the milk to the pan, stirring quickly to work into the mixture.  Keep adding until you have a lovely thick sauce.  Add the cream, capers, smoked trout and 1 cup of the cheese, and stir through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Your sauce is now ready.

Step 5.  In a large baking dish, spread the cooked pasta out.  Pour the sauce over (add a little water or more milk if its thickened up a bit), and gently spread the mashed potato over the top.  Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan, and bake uncovered for about 40 minutes.

Serve with lemon wedges, and your favourite salad.

BAZ THE WINO SAYS:

I’ve got two words for you Kimmy – Gruner Veltliner. An Austrian grape, it makes a sensational mid-weight white that has everything that’s good about Reisling without the tartness that turns some people off. Its citrus notes will complement the trout and the dill nicely, while the peachy flavours will round out the cream sauce. Believe me, it’s going to be the next pinot gris if only Australian growers can get enough vines in the ground.
Lark Hill winery near Canberra are one of the first local wineries to embrace the grape, but they’ve not got a lot of it and the 2009 – a cracker – is sold out. Hahndorf Hill winery in the Adelaide Hills is also growing the stuff and should have their first vintage out this year but nobody’s had a look at it yet.
So that leaves the original producers. Friendly Gruner Veltliner (yep, ‘Friendly’ is on the label, they do another one called ‘Charming’ which I haven’t tried but expect would live up to its moniker) from Laurenz V in Austria is stunning, 12% alc and can be had for about $30. Domain Wachau Gruner Veltliner 2008 can be bought from the Seddon Wine Store for $24, and I’m willing to bet Rathdowne Cellars in Carlton could also do you something pretty smart.

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