This fish pie is inspired by my holidays in the Danube Delta, where fish is king. The pickled salad is a modern, nordic addition, cutting through the oiliness of the fish.
The pie is very easy to make. It has a mild aroma of the sea and of the summer holidays where the hot weather makes you crave for light dinners, salty flavours, and moderately sweet wine.
The Danube Delta is by far the most beautiful and remote part of Romania. Many villages are reached only by ferry or shallow boats and the villagers are completely, almost frighteningly, dependent on nature and fishing.
The Delta is neither an island or a part of the mainland. It is something in-between, where one of the largest rivers in Europe finds its way in to the Black Sea. Due to its biodiversity, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1991, and it is almost as famous as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
I would say that it is a bit like the Norfolk Broads, just larger, more wild. Imagine a whole forest, Letea Forest, half submerged in the water, where the boats glide amongst the top branches of the trees. Imagine a world of vast, lonely beaches, that can only be reached by walking through dried marshes, rough scrubland, and prickly vegetation. Then imagine the whole area flooded in winter time, when the sea can come right up to the edge of the villages.
The food here is a very authentic, almost primitive. Everything is about the fish. Sturgeon is very popular, since this is one of the few remaining places in Europe where you can still catch them. Cheese and meat are quite rare – there is not enough grass to feed livestock. You can get wild boar, if you are lucky.
There are so many Romanian recipes using fish, and I chose this one because it brings together our love for pies, and fish, in one flavoursome dish.
400g fish pie mix
200g jumbo prawns
2 fillets smoked mackerel, shredded
125g Kalamata olives
40g capers, drained
1 yellow pepper, finely sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 tbsp double cream
half bunch of dill
1 tbsp white wine
salt an pepper
25g butter, melted
splash of water
5g mustard seeds
5g fennel seeds
1 fennel bulb
20 grapes, halved
1 red onion
Make the pie filling: combine together the fish, prawns, smoked fish, olives, capers, pepper, fennel, eggs, cream and wine. Set aside to marinated while you are preparing the filo pastry.
Assemble the pie: use the melted butter to brush each filo pastry sheet. One by one place the sheets on top of one another trying to change the angle every time. Put the filling in and cover with the filo pastry, wrap it gently.
Place in the oven for 30 -35 minutes, 180C or until golden brown.
Make the pickles
Put cider vinegar, honey, oil and a splash of water in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add the sliced fennel, cucumber, grapes and red onion. Quickly bring to the boil and take off the heat. Leave to infuse and cool. You can make it a day in advance.
This pie is not firm enough to cut into well defined slices, but it is delicious. Scoop up a generous portion from the dish, and add the pickles on top. You can also steam a few new potatoes, and mix them with yoghurt and dill dressing. Or serve the pie next to sweet baked beetroots.