It has been a while since I published a recipe, I know. What with all the moving and the inappropriate kitchens and/or the lack of good light and space to set up a photo spot… well, you know, all of that is not exactly conducive to food creativity.
I have now been in the new place for four months and the PTSD from boxing and moving yet one more time is easing off, though I think it would take longer to completely clear, given my track record (of moves).
After three years in the small Napa apartment with all the piles of boxes I was (sloooowly) sorting, I am now living in a space that is actually a home, not a warehouse, where there are lots of windows, a decent kitchen with a gas stove and prep space, aaaaand no beige walls to throw a color cast on my images that would take serious time and Photoshop to (partially) get rid of.
So I have been cooking more, mostly basic things like lots of vegetables, nothing complicated; but I have been making notes and getting ideas that I will play with by and by. I have also been slowly discovering local good places to eat, and one day I picked up some salmon pasta salad to go from a local café. It was good and satisfying, though I immediately thought on what I would do to improve it – or make it more to my taste. Most of all, I realized that, other than in smoked form, this was one of the few ways of eating fresh salmon that I actually really enjoy: poached (or steamed) and in salad form. So I thought I’d make some.
As I shopped for ingredients, I thought either peas or sugar snaps would go well with the salmon, both in taste/texture and in color. Besides, I love peas! I have now made this salad three times over the past couple of months and, between my roommate and I, it did not last very long. It is delicious, and satisfying, easy to make and keeps well in the refrigerator (unless it gets devoured first).
This last time I thought I would share the recipe with you all, so I set up my first food photo shoot in months and months. I picked the spot, cleared my desk to use as a table, then – given that all my props are hidden in storage somewhere – I allowed myself to go shop for a couple of new props, making sure I picked something (the two dishes and serving set you see in the images) that was different than what I know I already have. I also kept my budget to a minimum.
A friendly lemon tree in my neighborhood obliged the lemons for the photos (nobody was home, so I left a note with five dollars in it – pono is pono), and the lovely pink blossoms were offered by one of the trees across the street I have been photographing and enjoying so much (will share pics of that soon on IG).
Ready? Set… cook!
POACHED SALMON PASTA SALAD WITH PEAS, LEMON AND CHIVES
yields: 5-6 portions
– 1 lb/ 454 gr. salmon fillet
– ca 1 lb/454 gr. fresh peas (a packet of the frozen ones will work just as well)
– ca 13 oz/370 gr. good quality short Italian pasta in the shape of choice
– 4 Tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
– 4 Tablespoons plain yogurt
– 2 medium lemons
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 celery stick, sliced *
– a little fresh parsley, fennel or dill *
– a little white wine (about 2-3 Tablespoons) *
– black, pink or white peppercorns crushed with the side of a knife *
– bundle of fresh chives
– extra-virgin olive oil
– fine sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
– coarse sea salt for the pasta water
Notes on the ingredients: organic and non-GMO goes without saying, but I am saying it anyway.
Salmon: best if wild, line-caught salmon, as the farmed one tends to have hormones and other undesirable “stuff” in it. You can find it fresh during season, otherwise it is often “previously frozen”. In that case, just yesterday I saw some really good looking wild salmon fillets in the frozen section at Trader Joe’s. They might not have it all the time, though, so check first.
About pasta: I have stopped buying Barilla a long time ago, basically since they started making it in the U.S. under license. I have also stopped buying De Cecco a couple of years ago, as I noticed the quality was no longer what it used to be. I now only buy imported, small-manufacturer (usually organic) pastas from Italy. I don’t have a gluten intolerance or even a sensitivity, but I notice how much better my body handles this imported and organic small-batch pastas. Whole Foods carries some good ones, and the one I used is called Toscani, and is made in Italy for the American brand “Seggiano”. But there are others, both at WF and other places.
Herbs: I have used chives this time around and liked it, but fresh dill is usually the herb of choice for salmon and I have used that as well in previous batches. Freshly chopped parsley would work as well.
A good substitute for peas are, of course, asparagus – the other prince among spring vegetables.
* Items marked with an asterisk are part of what will get you a fancier poaching broth. If you don’t have them around, you will still get a good poached salmon, but if you have them, you will get an even tastier poached salmon.
Step 1 – Poach the salmon.
If the salmon fillet is one big piece, I like to cut it in 2-3 slices for ease and speed of poaching. Run your fingers up and down the “ridges” first to make sure there are no bones, and if you find any just remove them with tweezers (saved for similar jobs).
Bring to a simmer a pot with water (about 5-6 cups/1-1.5 liters, with the bay leaves, crushed peppercorns (sometimes I add a couple of juniper berries, too), the sliced celery, a few stems of parsley (or some chopped fennel stems, or a little bundle of fresh dill), the wine, 4-5 slices from one of the lemons, and about 1 Tablespoon of coarse sea salt.
Add the salmon to the hot water and let simmer gently for about 4-5 minutes until pink. Turn off the heat and let cool in the poaching water. Remove the salmon from the poaching broth, peel the skin from the bottom then flake with your fingers and set aside. As I flake the salmon, I also like to remove the brown part in the middle bottom because that is what makes even fresh salmon taste fishy. Up to you it you want to remove it or not.
This whole phase can be done one day ahead (or the night before). Just store the flaked salmon in a covered glass container in the refrigerator.
BTW: salmon poached like this can be an excellent alternative to tuna in a Niçoise salad as well.
Step 2 – Cook the pasta and the peas.
Bring a pot of abundant salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until just slightly al dente. In the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, add the fresh peas and cook with the pasta. Strain into a colander set in the sink, then rinse with cold water till room temperature. Let drain well from the water.
Note: if you are using frozen peas, wait till the pasta is cooked, strain the pasta out of the pot with a spider strainer into a colander set in the sink, and add the frozen peas to the hot salted water that remains after the pasta has been removed. This is the “lazy way” of doing it, so you don’t have to have two pots, or do the whole process twice. Hehe! Cook the peas for about 3-4 minutes, or till done to your taste (no mushy peas, please), then strain and rinse in cold water, too.
Place the nicely drained pasta and peas in a large bowl, drizzle with enough e-v olive oil and stir.
Step 3 – Dressing and completion.
In a little bowl mix the mayonnaise with the yogurt, add the finely grated peel and juice of one lemon and blend well. Add this to the pasta and peas and stir well. Taste and adjust for salt if needed.
The mayonnaise I use in this total amount of pasta salad is very little, but if you prefer to go mayo and yogurt free you can just do it the 100% Italian way and just dress with e-v olive oil and salt.
Add the flaked salmon and stir gently again.
Finely chop the chives (crosswise), add to the salad and stir. Your pasta salad is ready and can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days (it won’t last that long, as it will get devoured). As flavors settle, a little salt adjustment may be needed before serving. Before serving I like to drizzle a little fresh e-v olive oil, too.
Once I was done with the photo shoot, I placed the snipped blossoms in this bowl with a little water. They looked so pretty that I took some pics of them as well. It has been a few days now, and they are still looking vibrant and lovely.
Little notes aside, I hope you will enjoy this pasta salad. As we go towards summer, I can see this as as a really good recipe for picnics and pot-luck parties, as it holds up really well.
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May you be happy, may you be blessed, may you prosper in all things.