salmon pesto pasta

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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.

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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…

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Salmon Pesto Pasta (substantially adapted from the Pillsbury Complete Cookbook)

Serves 2

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.

5. Transfer mixture to small bowl, stir in cheese(s) and adjust salt. (Can be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly over the surface or filmed with oil and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

can’t deepfry on a wednesday (fish tacos)

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For Dave’s birthday, my parents took us out to eat at a brewery. Everyone loved the beer they ordered (except for my 8-month pregnant sister, who had to settle for soda), but I think I was the only one who enjoyed their food. Oh, and I did enjoy my food. Rarely do I finish my entire meal at a restaurant, but my shrimp tacos were too good to waste.

The shrimp was battered and fried, served with the classic shredded cabbage and aioli. I’ve made fish tacos before using a similar method, a beer batter, and they were fantastic. But…today is Wednesday, and deep-frying on a weeknight just seems irresponsible. I don’t generally shy away from fat, and I’d rather eat less of great food, than larger quantities of “reduced-fat” versions, but this time, I was ready to compromise. And after smearing everything with mayonnaise, how low-fat is this anyway?

So, I skipped the batter on the fish, and instead pan-fried it in just a slick of oil. Really, so much of the charm of this meal comes from the cabbage, mayonnaise, lime, and cilantro (not usually one of my favorites, but it has its place) that I didn’t miss the deep-fried goodness at all. In fact, I’ve decided that I’ll never bother deep-frying fish for fish tacos again. This was easier, cleaner, healthier, and just as tasty!

Weeknight Fish Tacos (adapted from my brother’s recipe)
Serves 2

I used large tortillas, because that’s all I had on hand, so this is what the picture shows. However, small tortillas actually work better. Also, I didn’t have red onions, so I used green onions.

Other possible toppings include avocado, green chile, and hot sauce.

I have tried substituting plain yogurt for the sour cream to make this even healthier, and it turned out great.

2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for oiling pan
¼ cup minced cilantro
¼ teaspoon cumin
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ – 3/4 pound tilapia, or other white fish (halibut, cod, catfish, snapper)
salt
4 ounces (¼ – ½ head) cabbage, finely shredded
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
6-8 small flour tortillas
White sauce (recipe follows)

White sauce:
1½ tablespoon minced cilantro
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon lime juice

1. Mix lime juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, cilantro, and cumin in large, flat bowl or pie plate. Add fish and turn to coat. Let marinate 15-30 minutes.

2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add marinated fish and cook, without moving, for 3 minutes. Using 2 spatulas, flip fish and cook on second side for 2 minutes, or until fish flakes with a fork. Remove fish from pan to plate, season with salt, and let set for 2-3 minutes. Cut into approximately bite-size pieces.

3. To build each taco, spread liberal amount of white sauce on tortilla, then add fish, cabbage, red onion, and whatever garnishes you desire. Serve.

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more fish from cans (deviled eggs with tuna)

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I know, I know, deviled eggs? Does anyone really need a recipe for deviled eggs, or a blog entry about them?

But, these have an extra ingredient that I assure you, makes a blog entry just for them worthwhile. (Plus, look how cute they are in pictures! They look like little boats from the side!)

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That ingredient is tuna. That’s right, we’re talking about good ol’ canned tuna. I recently heard a few people say that they don’t eat canned tuna, and, what?! Not eat canned tuna?! I looove canned tuna!

The first time a really remember eating it was a few years ago, when a friend brought me some fancy canned tuna from Spain. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but my friend encouraged me to just mix it up into tuna salad. (In retrospect, I should have just eaten it from the can.) I decided that an experiment was in order. Was expensive Spanish tuna worth the difference in price? So Dave and I did a side-by-side comparison of tuna salads made with the Spanish tuna and with StarKirst Solid White Albacore. (This is the brand recommended by Cooks Illustrated.)

In tuna salad, at least, the difference was minor. And since that test, I have become enamored with tuna salad sandwiches. It’s something that, for me, is best eaten at home, because I’ve gotten so picky about how it’s made. No celery or pickles, but enough minced red onion and parsley to make up for it.

There are a few tricks to getting the most from your tuna. First, drain the heck out of it. Then add salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and let that set while you prepare the other ingredients. This gives the tuna time to soak up those flavor-enhancers.

I made the filling for these deviled eggs very similar to how I make tuna salad, just leaving out minced red onion and of course adding the egg yolks. Best deviled eggs ever, I assure you!

One more thing – while I agree that a sprinkle of paprika adds some color to a deviled egg, I think a little minced something makes them just so cute. I used tomato in this case, but I think a purple olive like kalamata would look, and taste, great as well. (My husband does not agree that olives improve anything, hence the tomatoes in January.)

Deviled Eggs
Make 16 appetizers

1 6-ounce can tuna, preferably StarKist Solid White Albacore in Water
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced parsley
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ plum tomato, minced (optional)
4 kalamata olives, minced (optional)

1. Drain the tuna very well. Using a fork or your fingers, break up any large pieces. Add salt, pepper, parsley and mustard.

2. Cut each egg in half from pole to pole. Use a spoon to remove the yolk. Using a fork, mash the yolks well. Add to tuna mixture, then stir in mayonnaise.

3. Either spoon mixture into egg whites, or transfer mixture to a decorators bag or zip-top bag. If using a zip-top bag, cut out a corner. Squeeze mixture into egg whites. Garnish with tomatoes or olives, if desired.

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salty little fish (pissaladiere)

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Like many people I know, I worked at a pizza joint as a teenager. One night, as another employee handed a pizza to a customer, I caught a whiff of an awful odor – like rotting fish, ruining a perfectly good pizza. This was my first firsthand experience with anchovies. Yuck.

It took Cooks Illustrated (of course) and their recipe for pasta e fagioli to convince to me give the little fishies another chance. In this soup, the anchovies are used much like garlic, first minced and then used to flavor the sauce. When I opened the can, I expected to be confronted with the rotted smell that I still remembered from ten years before. Instead, I smelled…nothing. Nothing rotted, nothing even the least bit fishy. I took a hesitant nibble of one.

Whoa!!! Careful eating anchovies straight from the can! It’s like eating a fillet of salt.

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These days, I love anchovies. My husband, unfortunately, does not. One too many anchovy pizza deliveries as he worked his way through college, I suspect. I don’t know what those pizza places do to their anchovies to make them smell so horrid; my theory is incorrect storage. Also, to me, slabs of fish on tomato sauce and cheese seems inconsistent.

Not that I don’t like anchovies on pizza, mind you. But I like to skip the tomatoes and cheese and lay the little fishes on a pile of caramelized onions, dotted with nicoise olives and sprinkled with parsley. Ah, pissaladiere. This was one of my favorite dinners for myself before I married an anchovy-hater.

And now it’s my entry for Hay Hay It’s Donna Day, hosted this month by Joey of 80 breakfasts. I certainly encourage you to give anchovies a chance if you’ve always been convinced that they’re nothing but a foul pizza topping. They are far more than that – subtly meaty and a bit salty even after being rinsed. I admit, however, that this is probably not a good recipe for the anchovy un-initiated.

But for the rest of us, what a treat of contrasting flavors that play so well together!

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Pissaladiere – Provencal Pizza (from Cooks Illustrated)

Instant yeast is almost always sold under a marketing name; look for “rapid rise,” “perfect rise,” or “quick rise.” If your food processor includes a plastic dough blade attachment, use it; its short blades and dull edges make kneading easier on the motor. If not, the regular metal blade works almost as well. For best flavor, use high-quality oil-packed anchovies; in a recent tasting, Ortiz were our favorite. The dough in this recipe rises for 1 to 1 ½ hours. If a longer or overnight rise is more convenient, make the dough with ½ teaspoon of instant yeast and let it rise in the refrigerator for 16 to 24 hours. The caramelized onions can also be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

Makes 2 tarts, 8 to 10 first course servings

Dough:
2 cups bread flour (11 ounces), plus extra for dusting work surface
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional oil for brushing dough and greasing hands
1 cup water (8 ounces), warm (about 110 degrees)

Caramelized Onions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

Olives, Anchovies, and Garnishes:
olive oil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup niçoise olives, pitted and chopped coarse
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped coarse (about 2 tablespoons)
12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry for (optional) garnish
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

1. For the dough: In workbowl of food processor fitted with plastic dough blade (see note), pulse flour, yeast, and salt to combine, about five 1-second pulses. With machine running, slowly add oil, then water, through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms ball, about 15 seconds. Generously dust work surface with flour; using floured hands, transfer dough to work surface and knead lightly, shaping dough into ball. Lightly oil 1-quart measuring cup or small bowl, place dough in measuring cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in draft-free spot until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

2. For the caramelized onions: While dough is rising, heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering but not smoking; stir in onions, salt, and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture released by onions has evaporated and onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in water; transfer to bowl and set aside. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

3. To shape, top, and bake the dough: When dough has doubled, remove from measuring cup and divide into 2 equal pieces using dough scraper. Working with one piece at a time, form each piece into rough ball by gently pulling edges of dough together and pinching to seal. With floured hands, turn dough ball seam-side down. Cupping dough with both hands, gently push dough in circular motion to form taut ball. Repeat with second piece. Brush each lightly with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut two 20-inch lengths parchment paper and set aside.

4. Coat fingers and palms of hands generously with oil. Using dough scraper, loosen 1 piece of dough from work surface. With well-oiled hands, hold dough aloft and gently stretch to 12-inch length. Place on parchment sheet and gently dimple surface of dough with fingertips. Using oiled palms, push and flatten dough into 14- by 8-inch oval. Brush dough with oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Leaving ½-inch border around edge, sprinkle ¼ cup olives, 1 tablespoon chopped anchovies, and 1 teaspoon thyme evenly over dough, then evenly scatter with half of onions. Arrange 6 whole anchovy fillets, if using, on tart and sprinkle with fennel seeds, if using. Slip parchment with tart onto pizza peel (or inverted rimless baking sheet), then slide onto hot baking stone. Bake until deep golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. While first tart bakes, shape and top second tart.

5. Remove tart from oven with peel or pull parchment onto baking sheet; transfer tart to cutting board and slide parchment out from under tart. Cool 5 minutes; sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons parsley, if using. Cut tart in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise to form 8 pieces; serve immediately. While first tart cools, bake second tart.

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prepping and chopping and prepping… (pad thai)

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I always seem to fool myself into thinking that pad thai is a good weeknight meal. Then I’ll get home from work and start prepping ingredients, and then I’m prepping and prepping and finally asking Dave to help because I’ve been in the kitchen over half an hour and I haven’t even started cooking yet. Fortunately, once the cooking starts, it only takes 10 minutes or so. That short cooking time is what always tricks me into making this on a weeknight.

One of the most difficult tasks with making pad thai is finding at least some of the authentic ingredients. I love tamarind, and I’m always disappointed when I order pad thai in a restaurant and find that they’ve skipped the tamarind. Tamarind is sold in several forms – the whole pods, the pulp of the pods, and a liquid concentrate. I use the pulp. If you really can’t find any, a mixture of lime juice and water can do in a pinch.

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Pad thai has so many freakin’ ingredients, which is the only reason it takes a while to prepare. Another of my favorites, that might be hard to find, is dried shrimp. Mmm…like shrimp jerkey, so salty and good. I tried salted radish and absolutely hated it. Definitely a textural issue. I’ve seen recipes that called for salted cabbage instead of salted radish, so I want to try that too.

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There are so many ingredients, and the cooking happens so fast, that I have to line up all of the ingredients in the order that they’re cooked, so I don‘t have to look at the recipe at all. Sometimes I have Dave read the recipe to me as I stand over the stove doing the fun part.

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Ah, but pad thai is so worth all the chopping and prep work. It’s so good – and healthy!

Pad Thai (from Cooks Illustrated – no adaptations)
Serves 4 as a main dish

Although pad thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Tofu is a good and common addition to pad thai. If you like, add 4 ounces of extra-firm tofu or pressed tofu (available in Asian markets) cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup) to the noodles along with the bean sprouts.

If you’re using tamarind concentrate instead of pulp, mix 1 tablespoon with 2/3 cup hot water. If you can’t find any tamarind, mix 1/3 cup of water with 1/3 cup of lime juice; replace granulated sugar with brown sugar. Do not serve this version with lime wedges.

2 tablespoons tamarind paste or substitute
¾ cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles, about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon table salt
12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)
5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
lime wedges

1. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.

2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.

4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).

5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.

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