Italian Cod with Chilli, Capers & Garlic

This recipe is from a book called Valentina’s Italian Regional Cookery, by the brilliant Valentina Harris, where the dish has the slightly more romantic title of Filetti di Merluzzo all ‘Istriana . Sadly the book is out of print now but you can still get it second hand from Amazon Marketplace, dirt cheap. This makes a very flavourful meal, just looking for some vegetables or new potatoes to go with it. Serves 4. Would work with haddock. This may not be the most glamourous looking dinner I’ve ever served up but it was great.

italian cod

  • 4 cod fillets, weighing around 500g in total
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed and dried. Chopped very finely.
  • 2 canned sardines, but get the ones in oil – olive oil for preference, chopped
  • 1 smallish potato, peeled & grated
  • 60 ml of stock, veg or chicken
  • 1 dried chilli
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper

Put the cod in a large heavy bottomed pan and on top, add the onion, garlic,  parsley and oil. You might think either the cod , the onions or garlic are not going to cook properly – they will. Cook over a low heat for about 12 minutes, but please watch the fish doesn’t overcook. Especially if the fillets are very thin. Remove the fish from the pan carefully, with a spatula or slice and place on a warmed plate or serving platter. Keep it warm while..

Add the chopped capers to the oil remaining in the pan and stir. (A confession: While I was making this, the fish skin stuck a bit, so I just put the original pan in the wash and started the sauce again in a new one – hardly matters) Stir in the sardines, grated potato, stock & chilli. Stir and simmer for about 7-10 minutes, or until the potato is cooked. I must tell you that there were  times making the sauce that I thought, ‘Hm, this looks like fishy wallpaper paste’, but persevere because it was delicious. Put the cod carefully back on top of the sauce and heat through again for about 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the chilli and serve, sprinkling with the lemon juice.


Basic Pesto & Cod with a Pesto Crust

003I understand why people buy their pesto in a jar. I do. I understand that there may be a misapprehension about it taking time or effort, or that the ingredients may be many, varied and costly. I understand some people are just not going to be bothered to make anything like that from scratch. Totally get all that. However, I do make my pesto from scratch for two reasons – I usually already have the ingredients (I have a basil plant on my windowsill, and I just can’t imagine life without garlic, olive oil & parmesan cheese) but the main reason, the real reason is that the result is just a world away from anything you can buy in a jar for almost no effort. And for a quick pasta sauce or a topping for meat and fish, I’m more than happy to spend the 5 2 minutes it takes to whizz it up. I always make mine in a food processor , but you can do it in a pestle and mortar. (WARNING: May take longer than 2 minutes doing it this way!). This will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of days, but I would really recommend eating straight away – and for this reason the recipe I’ve given really only serves 2. This version from the Zilli Cookbook.

  • 20-24 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 25g Parmesan cheese/
  • 15g pine nuts
  • 45ml extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper


Put the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts & parmesan in your food processor, and whizz for 20-30 seconds. If you can keep the food processor on while adding the olive oil, do so in a steady stream until its all combined, all well and good. If like me, you can’t, put the olive oil in and whizz again for about 20 seconds. Thats really it.

So when you’ve done that, you might like to try this fish dish. If you don’t really want to make your own pesto, that’s alright( whisper it..), A Jar is Still OK for this. Alternatively, if you live anywhere near a good deli, they might sell it fresh over the counter. This dish goes best with a nice fresh salad, in my opinion.

pesto cod post oven

Serves 2 greedy people:

  • helping of pesto for 2 (see above)
  • 2 cod fillets, roughly 150-200g each
  • 20g butter
  • 30g breadcrumbs
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper.

Preheat the oven to gasmark 6. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, remove from the heat and add breadcrumbs, juice & zest. Don’t overmix, just combine the ingredients. It will look a bit mushy anyway, however that’s alright.  When cool, add the pesto and mix well. Divide and pat the mixture quite firmly onto the fish. Put it in the oven for 10 minutes. Scoff.