This is Dave’s most-requested meal, and it’s gotten to the point where I purposefully don’t make it so that it will always be a treat. Yeah, I’m a bad wife. Also, I think making pesto is sort of a pain in this ass. Back in the old days, before I took over the kitchen and we actually cooked together on occasion, Dave would prepare the fish while I worked on the pesto. Over time, I tweaked the recipe here and there without writing it down, and it became easier to just do it myself. And now I complain that Dave doesn’t like to cook with me…
Updated photo 5/27
I’ve found that if I allow my life to be easy and just buy pesto, this recipe is actually a quick weeknight-appropriate meal. We’re picky about pesto, but I’ve found that my grocery store stocks some good stuff in their olive bar. But…this was for Dave’s birthday, so I went all out and made it from scratch.
(Wait a minute…wasn’t Dave’s birthday last month? Yes yes, the problem is, I didn’t like the picture I took of the final dish, so I wanted to make it again and hope for a better picture. I made it again last weekend, but the pictures from that night aren’t any better, so I’m sticking with the original. Sorry the colors are all funky. We eat dinner at night. There’s no natural light at night. My pictures of dinner tend be funky colors.)
I am, of course, a big fan of my homemade pesto. My trick (okay, Cooks Illustrated’s trick that I stole) is to squeeze the maximum amount of flavor out of each ingredient. I toast the pine nuts, I toast the garlic so that it loses that sharpness that raw garlic has, and I bruise the basil leaves. Before I did all this, I would often end up with grassy-smelling pesto, but now I make basily-smelling pesto. Gotta love that.
The salmon, brushed with oil and sprinkled with lemon zest, is broiled. The sauce is made from evaporated milk that’s boiled to reduce it even further. The pasta is mixed with the milk, then the salmon, and finally, off the heat to preserve the basil’s delicate flavor (Marcella Hazan is getting to me), the pesto is stirred in. Top with a little more parmesan, and you’ve got my and Dave’s favorite way to eat salmon. And Dave’s favorite way to eat pesto…and pasta…
Salmon Pesto Pasta (substantially adapted from the Pillsbury Complete Cookbook)
8 ounces pasta
12 ounces salmon
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
5 ounces evaporated milk
½ cup pesto (recipe follows)
grated parmesan, for serving
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; stir to separate pasta. Cook pasta until al dente; drain. Pour evaporated milk into empty pot and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup. Add cooked pasta to pot and stir to combine.
2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Season skinless side of salmon liberally with salt and pepper, sprinkle with zest, then rub with olive oil. Broil until salmon is no longer translucent and is firm when pressed, about 10 minutes. Remove from broiler and sprinkle with lemon juice. Use fork to flake into bite-sized pieces. Skin will stick to foil and can be discarded.
3. Add salmon to pasta mixture and stir over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Top with parmesan.
Pesto (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
Bridget note: I haven’t found a good way to measure basil leaves by volume. I just add all of the leaves from a hydroponic basil plant or a large herb container from the grocery store.
CI note: Basil usually darkens in homemade pesto, but you can boost the green color a little by adding the optional parsley.
Update 6/18/08 – After flipping through Jamie’s Dinners, I have found a far easier and just as effective method for bruising the basil leaves. Simply add the unbruised basil leaves to the food processor bowl and process with the plastic dough hook until they’re thoroughly bruised. Switch back to the blade and continue with the recipe as written.
Makes ½ cup
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (or substitute almonds or walnuts)
5 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed thoroughly
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, Italian (optional)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch table salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1. Toast nuts in small heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.
2. Add the unpeeled garlic to empty skillet and toast until, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool, then peel and add to food processor bowl.
3. Place basil and parsley in heavy-duty, quart-size, zipper-lock bag; pound with flat side of meat pounder until all leaves are bruised.
4. Process nuts and garlic until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients except cheese; process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down bowl with flexible spatula.