RECIPE: Cod in tomato bisque with spinach pesto

What's your favourite ingredient to cook with? It's very easy to think of all those prime cuts that adorn the menus of swanky restaurants: fillets of beef, lobster tails, loin of turbot, or some rare mushroom that only pops its head above ground once in a blue moon, writes James Waller-Davies.
Cod in tomato bisque with spinach pestoCod in tomato bisque with spinach pesto
Cod in tomato bisque with spinach pesto

All lovely, yes. But the more we cook, we begin to realise there’s one ingredient that changes the quality of our cooking more than anything else…and that ingredient is time.

Nothing so effects the flavours and textures of what we put on our plates as the time we cook things for. Tough meat, dry fish, soggy vegetables, tasteless soups, all the product of bad timing rather than the quality of the ingredients. I’d even go so far as to suggest than more meals are ruined from poor timing than anything else.

This week’s recipe is a perfect example of cooking timing. The bisque takes hours, slowly drawing the flavours out of humble ingredients to a rich, tasty soup. The cod cooks perfectly in 12 minutes and the pesto, ready in seconds. All three components totally dependent on their timing.

If you’ve got the ‘time’, take all day with the bisque. It’s worth it. But any more with the cod and the pesto and they will be ruined. Of all the dishes from the last year of this column this is one of my favourites. It’s tasty, sophisticated and pretty – just the thing for a bit of swanky restaurant in your own home.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 cod loin or tail fillets

For the bisque

2 tins tomatoes

500g white fish bones/heads

1 chopped fennel bulb

3 litres water

For the spinach pesto

2 handfuls baby spinach

40g pine nuts

40g grated Parmesan

20ml olive oil

1 grated garlic clove

Squeeze of lemon


Make the tomato bisque frying the fennel in a large pan or stock pot. Add the fish bones and heads and stir in for a few minutes. Blitz the tomatoes in a blender and add along with the water. Bring to the boil and then simmer on minimum heat for at least 4 hours, but all day is even better. Do not let volume reduce by less than 2 litres, top up as needed.

Strain entire content through a sieve, pressing down with a ladle to get all the liquid out. Return to pan and reduce until a smooth soup consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm for serving.

For the spinach pesto, place all the ingredients in a blender and blitz for 10 seconds, until smooth.

Rub the cod with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, place on a tray and bake for 12 minutes.

To serve, place a serving of the tomato bisque in a bowl, place the cod in the middle and garnish with the spinach pesto.