The Food Column: Grove City grad knows her fish ... now


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Kathy Hunt's fish-based diet had its beginnings in her childhood home of New Castle, but her idea of what constitutes a fish dinner has progressed a great deal since then.

When Ms. Hunt was 14, her father had a massive heart attack, prompting the family to institute radical diet changes. But her mother didn't really like cooking, so their heart-healthy fish dinners tended toward blandness and boredom.

Time spent traveling and writing professionally about food led Ms. Hunt to discover novel ways to prepare fish. For the past 15 years, she's been a pescetarian -- a vegetarian who also eats fish. In May, she released "Fish Market," a cookbook that features simple, varied, flavorful fish-based meals.

Ms. Hunt earned her bachelor's degree from Grove City College. While a student there, she also experienced her first ill-fated fishing excursion. Attempting to catch carp in the Allegheny River, she instead got her line caught in a tree. She eventually managed to catch a suckerfish but ended up tossing it back because as a dorm-dweller, she didn't even have a good stove to prepare it on.

She went on to earn master's degrees from Penn State and Columbia. Living in New York City while working on her master's in journalism opened up a whole new culinary world for her. She'd always liked to cook, but she was "exposed to so many wonderful cuisines" in New York that she started to get a better sense of what was out there.

The family tendency toward "wanderlust" led her to marry her interests in food and travel. She has carved out a career as a syndicated food and travel writer, first for Tribune Media Services and now for online venues. She's traveled -- and eaten -- around the globe in Morocco, Vietnam, India, England and other countries.

The food-and-travel blend shows up in the cookbook, too. Along with her recipe for Salt Baked Snapper, she includes a little box describing her first experience eating it during a trip to Portugal: "On that memorable evening the server wheeled over a dining cart weighted down by a white dome of coarse sea salt. After he slid the cart into place, he thwacked the saline mound with the butt of a bread knife. Cracking it open, he peeled back the crust, revealing a steaming hot fish."

She goes on to write that given the big pile of salt, she assumed the fish would taste salty, but it didn't. The salt had acted as an insulator but not as a seasoning.

Her recipe calls for 4 pounds of sea salt.

Not all her food-and-travel experiences have been memorable in a good way. On the same trip to Portugal, she had another meal that most definitely did not make the cut for the cookbook: barnacles. "They looked like the fingers of some prehistoric creature" and tasted just as bad, she said.

Another good seafood-and-travel experience happened in Cambodia, where she worked alongside a local chef, choosing a snakehead fish, weaving a basket of banana leaves to cook it in and grinding local spices to dress it.

The book also covers topics like selecting seafood, cleaning and filleting, and ecological considerations. She's also working on an app to support "Fish Market" so home cooks can check fish safety ratings and ingredient pairings while they're actually in the grocery store.

While Ms. Hunt supports buying fresh, sustainable seafood, she also recognizes the challenges faced by inhabitants of landlocked cities such as Pittsburgh. She suggests finding a knowledgeable fishmonger and even buying frozen seafood as long as you check where it's from.

Even canned fish can be healthy and budget-friendly for the non-coastal, she noted. The book contains a handful of canned fish recipes, including Onion-Sardine Pissaladiere (see recipe) and Chilled Tuna and White Beans.

Ms. Hunt is busy promoting her book through book signings and cooking classes (she'll visit Pittsburgh Public Market in October; stay tuned to this column for details). She's also been optioned for a second cookbook and is beginning to consider some topic ideas. For information on "Fish Market," check fishmarketbook.com. For additional information on Ms. Hunt and links to her articles, see KitchenKat.com.

Local food events

Rusyn Food Festival: "Pirohy" and "halushky" (spell them whatever way you want), kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, borscht, chicken soup, nut and apricot rolls, fruit- and cheese-filled crepes, Rusyn doughnuts and tortes, and much more on the menu, plus live entertainment, vendors and artisans demonstrating traditional Rusyn arts such as Easter-egg- decorating and lace-making. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, through Sunday, Aug. 4, at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church's parish center on Fifth Street in Ambridge.

Garfield Night Market: The first in a series of four is Friday, Aug. 2, from 6 to 10 p.m. on North Pacific Avenue between Penn Avenue and Dearborn Street. Vendors include the Franktuary and Lomito food trucks, Healcrest Farm and Abby's Sweets and Treats. facebook.com/GarfieldNightMarket

Taste and Style Gourmet Food Truck Experience: More than a dozen food trucks and vendors, crafters, children's activities (noon to 3 p.m.), Pittsburgh Pirates' Pierogies (2 p.m. Sat. only), book signing by "Food Lovers' Guide to Pittsburgh" authors (noon to 2 p.m. Sat. only). 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 3 and 4, at Tanger Outlets, Washington. tangeroutlet.com/Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Week Kickoff Party: Cocktail party-style event featuring samples from restaurants participating in the Restaurant Week promotion. 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 8 at the National Aviary, North Side. $35. pittsburghrestaurantweek.com.

Around the World Pop-Up Dinner: Workshops on juicing, pickling and making vegetarian "summer rolls," plus a four-course dinner of tomato gazpacho, slow-smoked tofu or duck leg, grilled corn on the cob, Asian slaw and vegan falooda. 6 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at Pittsburgh Public Market. $55 per person (BYOB). Reservations required: pittsburghpublicmarket.org. Information: zestwishes.co.

Iced-coffee hike: Five-mile hike along the Connoquenessing Creek in Zelienople, followed by an iced-coffee tasting at Wunderbar Coffee House. 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 10. $12. ventureoutdoors.org.

Farm-to-Fork Dinner: Dinner of farm food, including local beer and wine and locally raised beef, served in the apple orchard, plus hayride and live music. 4 p.m. Aug. 10 at Soergel Orchards in Wexford. $85 per person. soergels.com.



Onion-sardine pissaladiere

PG tested

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 1/2 medium white onions, halved and sliced into thin crescents

  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt

  • 3.75-ounce can skinless, boneless sardines

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the thawed puff pastry and place it on an ungreased baking sheet.

Heat oil in a medium frying or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and salt and sauté until softened and slightly colored, about 6 minutes. Remove onions from pan and spread them evenly over the puff pastry.

Using your fingers, break the sardines into chunks and place them on top of the onions, spacing evenly. Sprinkle the rosemary and thyme over the onions and sardines.

Bake the pissaladiere for 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry has puffed up and the edges have browned slightly. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Serves 4 to 6.

-- Kathy Hunt, "Fish Market" A Cookbook for Selecting and Preparing Seafood (Running Press, May 2013, $22)



recipes - foodcolumn

Rebecca Sodergren: pgfoodevents@hotmail.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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