Back in the day, Friday dinner was always something of a catch as catch can. Meat was out of the question. Dinner had to be built from a variety of other choices, some not so good as others.On the best Friday nights, dinner might be pancakes. Now, pancakes were a fun selection except for one thing, there was neither bacon nor scrapple to go with the pancakes. Then there was "pasta-cheech." In proper Italian that would be "pasta e cecci." But in the American-Italian linguistic transformation the word "cecci" turned out a bit differently. When I researched this dish on line, I found it primarily as a soup. But this is not how we had it. For us it was more like any other pasta dish, only without meat. In my earliest recollections my mother made
"pasta cheech" with pasta "shells," pasta now seldom seen that is in the shape of a conch shell (conchiglie)*( con-kye - lee aye). The sauce was non-meat tomato and cecci, (chick peas.) The substitution of the chick peas for meat would now be a much appreciated vegetarian dish.
But, in those days, we hated the chick peas.They were dry and tasteless.
Eventually she substituted the cecci with peas (frozen). That was a great improvement. The too, there was pizza, made in a large cookie tray and garnished with tomato sauce and cheese. The other repeated Friday dinner
was fish sticks or fish cakes from the freezers of Mrs. Pauls.(That's a Philadelphia Company.Elsewhere it may have been Gorton's .) Of course, the primary ingredient for those breaded fish sticks and fish cakes was ketchup. Ketchup was the true main course, delivered on bland fish with no taste whatsoever and fried bread crumbs.
This summer when thinking about ways to use the wonderfully fresh and sweet fruits and vegetables of the season,something triggered the recollection of fish cakes with ketchup. In the way our minds work, suddenly the idea of a wonderful summer salsa replaced the bottle of Heinz Ketchup.
But the thought of the salsa didn't quite gel with the idea of a cod based fish cake. In traditional Italian cooking, the cod for a fish cake is made from
salted dry cod, "baccalà." So, I thought, can I make the fish cakes from fresh cod. Nope! It just doesn't work. I tried dicing raw cod, but the knife just doesn't break it down correctly. Then I tried the Cuisinart That just turned the fish to mush. If you are using fresh cod you have to boil or steam it first. Out came the Chinese steamer. It worked perfectly. The steam cooked the fish but did not infuse it with too much water. Then, when cooled a bit,the cod broke down into small but substantial flakes. When mixed with mashed potatoes, coated in bread crumbs and fried, the result was like eating a delicate crispy cloud of the most subtle taste and texture. Now, here again, there are variations.In this version I added crushed onions to the potatoes and then threw in a goodly measure of capers.Instead of onions, you might also use chives or scallions. Some folks may like to add
chopped peppers, hot or sweet, to the fish and mashed potato base. While you can add any number of other spices or flavorings, I wouldn't go too far.The beauty of this dish is the simple and light delicacy of the fish
The second part of this recipe is the salsa. The salsa, the use of sweet summer produce, is what prompted my ideas about this recipe. The light summer taste of tomato, cucumber, peppers and lime lightly enhance the airy texture and light taste of these cod cakes. If you are going to work with your own fish cakes, the last thing you want to do is to surrender them to
the overwhelming sugary vinegar of a bottle of ketchup.
Fried cod cakes may not be something that you might immediately think of for summer. But when served with this summer salsa, it fits right in. Set out your fry pan on an evening that's not all that hot. The end result is most refreshing.
What you need
Getting it together: the mise-en-place, have all your elements prepared before you start to cook.
The salsa. While the cakes are resting make the salsa. It's a good idea to let this sit all day or overnight. In this way the flavor develops.
Later in the day or on the next day.