Sponsor
Subscribe

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

RSS|ATOM|RDF

Subscribe with Bloglines

Add to My Yahoo!

Accolades




SAVEUR.com's Sites We Love



Sponsor

blog advertising is good for you
Search Site
Recently


Endings, Beginnings
and Spaghetti

The Anna
Tasca Lanza
Cooking School

Springtime
in Sicily


Born-Again
Vegetable
Boiling

An Inspiring
Book


Cold
Comfort


The Pizza
Project

Happy 2012, Long Time
No See



How to
Cook Indian


Blogs Around the World

101 COOKBOOKS
San Francisco, CA, USA
AN ENDLESS BANQUET
Montreal, Canada
BLEEDING ESPRESSO
Calabria, Italy
CHEZ PIM
SF Bay Area, CA, USA
CHUBBY HUBBY
Singapore
CREAMPUFFS IN VENICE
Toronto, Canada
COOKING ADVENTURES OF CHEF PAZ
New York, NY, USA
DAVID LEBOVITZ
Paris, France
DELICIOUS DAYS
Munich, Germany
DESERT CANDY
Washington D.C., USA
DINNER WITH JULIE
Calgary, Canada
DORIE GREENSPAN
Paris and NYC
EGGBEATER
SF Bay Area, CA, USA
FOOD & THOUGHTS
Copenhagen, Denmark
FOOD BEAM
Côte d'Azur, France
GLUTEN-FREE GIRL
Seattle, WA, USA
GRAB YOUR FORK
Sydney, Australia
HOMESICK TEXAN
New York, NY, USA
IL CAVOLETTO DI BRUXELLES
Rome, Italy
KALYN'S KITCHEN
Salt Lake City, UT, USA 
KUIDAORE
Singapore
LA TARTINE GOURMANDE
Boston, MA, USA
LOBSTERSQUAD
Madrid, Spain 
LUCULLIAN DELIGHTS
Pistoia, Italy 
LUCY'S KITCHEN NOTEBOOK
Lyon, France
MATT BITES
Los Angeles, CA, USA
MY MADELINE
Boston, MA, USA
NAMI-NAMI
Tallinn, Estonia
NORDLJUS
Suffolk, UK
ORANGETTE
Seattle, WA, USA
THE PASSIONATE COOK
Singapore
RAMBLING SPOON
Chang Mai, Thailand
ROSA JACKSON
Nice/Paris, France
SEVEN SPOONS
Ontario, Canada
SIMPLY RECIPES

SF Bay Area, CA, USA
SMITTEN KITCHEN
New York, NY, USA
STEAMY KITCHEN
Tampa Bay, FL, USA
SWEET AMANDINE
Cambridge, MA, USA
TARTELETTE
Charleston, SC, USA
TEA AND COOKIES
SF Bay Area, CA, USA 
TOAST
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
THE WEDNESDAY CHEF
Berlin, Germany

Beyond Blogs

MORE FOOD LINKS... 

« 5 Things to Love about Calabria | Main | As Long as There's Chocolate... »
Friday
Feb222008

The Little Black Dress of Dinner

 2272239279_e4581db5c7.jpg
Pasta with Smoked Salmon "Acqua al 2"

 

Anyone who purports to know even a little about fashion knows that the one indispensable item in any woman's wardrobe is the little black dress. It's elegant, it's sophisticated, it's perfect for any occasion, and most importantly, you don't have to think about it; you just throw it on and you're dressed for anything, regardless of which way the fickle winds of fashion happen to be blowing the rest of your attire.

Well, believe it or not, I've actually survived for thirty years without a little black dress (in truth, I've bought several over the years, but none has ever been that black dress), but I do have something in my arsenal I couldn't survive without. Let's call it the little black dress of dinner.

To me, this edible little black dress represents nothing short of the holy grail of recipes. I mean, let's face it - as much as I love to cook, sometimes I want to invite people over without having to spend twenty-four hours sweating into a pot of demiglace. I want to make something that's impressive and unusual, but also foolproof and affordable. I want most of the ingredients to be already sitting in my refrigerator, or at most a fifteen-minute trip to the supermarket away. Heck, I want something that I can start making twenty minutes before my guests walk in the door and still be absolutely certain it will knock their socks into orbit around Pluto. I want something like this salmon pasta.

Recipes like this are, unfortunately, all too rare. Most dishes designed to impress are full of complicated techniques, esoteric ingredients and tedious prep work. This one couldn't be farther from those if it tried. It takes literally twenty minutes from start to finish, pasta boiling time included (well, maybe a couple more if you want to get your onions nice and caramelized), and chances are, you've got more than half of the ingredients on hand already.

Most importantly, though, it is really, really good. I confirmed that first time I tasted it, ten years ago at the bustling Florentine restaurant Acqua al 2 (which, I see through the miracle of the internet, not only continues to flourish, but now has a sister restaurant in San Diego. Go figure!). Their gimmick was (and still is, it seems) a pasta sampler, a succession of five plates of pasta in every shape and size imaginable, each dressed with one of their legendary sauces: tangy salsa verde, earthy funghi porcini, spicy eggplant and tomato. Actually, I'm just guessing about those, as apart from this dish, I can't recall a single thing I ate there that night. I only remember, midway through that parade of pasta, being floored by one of the most ridiculously tasty sauces I had ever eaten, atop noodles or not. It was salmony, but not too salmony, slightly sweet, subtly garlicky and thick with cream - I swear, if I had spoken better Italian, I would have asked to kiss the chef's feet, or at least, would have asked for a bathtub-sized carton of the stuff to take home so I could have spent hours dissecting its components.

But I didn't, so as soon as I got home I tinkered and tinkered until I managed to recreate that pasta, and even now, ten years on, it's one of my most treasured recipes. Blushing pink and scandalously rich, it somehow manages to straddle that elusive line between sophistication and familiarity, comfort and excitement. I have served it to salmon-lovers, salmon-haters and salmon-ambivalents, and not a single one has ever refused seconds (or thirds, when they're available). I even sleep better at night knowing this recipe is there, since one of my recurring nightmares involves an Iron-Chef-like scenario of having exactly one hour to whip up dinner for dozens of important people.

In that scenario, the food, thanks to this pasta, would be no problem; it's just too bad I would have to spend the remaining forty minutes trying to decide what on earth to wear.

 
Pasta with Smoked Salmon "Acqua al 2"

As I've said, this is a perfect dish for company, but I also make it sometimes for just the two of us, in which case I cut the quantities in half. You'll want to use a smoked salmon of reasonably good quality; I find that the ultra-cheap kinds are often unbearably salty and can have some textural issues, but whether it's been hot or cold smoked doesn't really make a difference since the salmon ends up cooked anyway (in case you don't know the difference, cold-smoked usually comes in thin, supple slices and looks quite similar to raw, whereas hot smoked is usually sold in a chunk and has more of a firm, "cooked fish" appearance). Oh, and don't tell any Italian grandmothers, but I have been known to occasionally gild this lily with some freshly-grated parmigiano reggiano (I know, blasphemy!), but strictly speaking, it really doesn't need it.
Serves: 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2/3 cup (160ml) dry white wine or vermouth
1 8oz (200g) package cream cheese, cubed
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons tomato paste (concentrate)
1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
8-10oz (250-300g) smoked salmon (either hot or cold smoked works fine), cut in 1/2-inch (1cm) pieces
salt, to taste
1 lb. (450g) dried pasta, something hearty (my favorites for this dish are tagliatelle, penne, and bucatini)

lemon thyme or regular thyme, for garnish (optional)

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until golden and starting to caramelize, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté just until it loses its raw edge, about one minute more. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the cream cheese, stirring until it melts, and then the cream. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat slightly and stir in the tomato paste, sugar and smoked salmon. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 more minutes, until the sauce is quite thick. Taste and add salt and/or a little more sugar as needed.

Cook the pasta in the boiling salted water until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. In a large bowl or the empty pasta pot, toss the pasta with the sauce, adding in a little of the pasta water if needed to help the sauce coat the noodles evenly.

Serve immediately, garnished, if you like, with few leaves of lemon thyme. Unfortunately this sauce doesn't reheat very well, but that's is a great excuse not to have any leftovers. :)

 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (40)

This is really similar to something we call the "BC Bowl" up in Whistler. It's one of my favorites too...mmm.... Love that pasta bowl, btw!

February 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterL

Can I use salmon steak, not smoked ? I have some and need to use it and love pasta...ergo...this dish? Caroline

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

I once came home from a fishing trip with large ziploc bags full of wild smoked salmon. Smoked salmon in a cream sauce on home-made fettuccine became a go-to dish, and still remains one of my favorites to this day.

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

your photos always, always make me melt. Yummy! Hmmm I can just smell the heavenly feeling of your pasta.

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSusana

I will admit to being a sucker for salmon in pasta ever since my first taste of it at a hole-in-the-wall (hole-in-the-canal?) in venice. unfortunately, everything that I've tried in the US has been too salty to be good--and now I know why, I think :)

thanks for the tip--can't wait to try it myself!

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commentershyestviolet

I never would have thought of comparing salmon pasta to the proverbial LBD - but yes, that works. Simple, elegant, seductive ... too bad there really isn't anything analogous to the LBD for us guys, but that might be stretching the analogy too far.

I tend to go very plain with my versions of this dish and really highlight the salmon, but that's just me. I don't mind a little variety though, so I'm definitely going to keep this version around for the next fresh catch.

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercorey

I like the little black dress introduction. I have a few "little black dinners" myself and something similar to this is on that list. Smoked salmon, zucchini, leeks and goat cheese fetuccini. Everyone loves it around here. Thank you for another lovely post!

February 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAran

Hi there...I just discovered your blog through Tastespotting. Your photos and stories are wonderful. The salmon pasta looks so great that I really wish smoked salmon weren't so hard to find in Beijing!

February 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAppetiteforChina

Melissa: Wow--I can't wait to try this one!

AppetiteforChina: Gotta love the grass-is-greener syndrome; here you are lamenting the lack of smoked salmon in Beijing, and here in the US I'm constantly complaining about the fact that I can't find a bunch of Chinese ingredients that I want... Maybe we should switch places for a day or two :-)

February 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Looks very appetizing. It is necessary to try to prepare.

February 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTravel man

I was swept off my feet by this recipe a few years ago. A guy invited me to his place for an "impromptu" dinner, and this is what he made. It was memorable, to say the least.

February 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterhelen

As usual I love your writing AND the recipe, Melissa. I can only confirm that pasta, cream and smoked salmon can result in a heavenly dish. Thanks for sharing !

February 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterangelika

Oooh this looks really delicious. Though I'd rather use fresh salmon steak than smoked salmon too. Yummm.

Sues

February 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSues is not Martha

Lovely recipe! I'm always blown away by your beautiful writing. Your posts read like fiction.

That pasta looks divine!

February 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChocolate Shavings

Melissa- Please come visit me. I have something for you.

February 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStickyGooeyCreamyChewy

I really love pasta and the sight of this makes me wanna drool... AAAAHHHHHH!!!! i'm hungry!!!

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjamezu

Oh how genius to name your "little black dress" recipes! I have many of these too, but what about a guy like Todd? He doesn't wear dresses, so what could his be called? :)
The pasta looks comforting and just divine!

February 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWhite On Rice Couple

Melissa! I just made this and it was fantastic! I made one excellent substitution - instead of cream cheese, I used half fresh cows' milk cheese, and half creme fraiche. It really was superb, especially with hot-smoked salmon and the fresh thyme. You rock!

The only problem is that if I make this too often I won't be able to fit into my little black dress ;)

March 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKate

I so adore smoked salmon. Recently, I encountered my first case of an adult who actually doesn't like it, and was, well, gobsmacked, as they say in your present part of the world. For the most part, though, smoked salmon offers a rare combination of sophistication and (nearly) universal appeal which fits right in with your "little black dress" comparison.

This looks delicious!

March 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlindy

Mouth-watering photo, delicious-sounding dish...how do you do it to me every time? This sounds like dinner...now to go and get some smoked salmon! (Thanks for the inspiration!)

March 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I made this twice so far. The first time it came out awful, but the second time it was great! Really easy recipe! Here are a few points to note:

1) Don't use sweet vermouth, it gives a sickly sweet flavor to the final dish that ruins it.
2) Don't over-do the sugar for the same reason.
3) In my experience, it survives refrigeration quite well. In fact, I liked it microwaved more than fresh!!
4) This dish seems like it could sustain some heat (the spicy kind), but I haven't tried yet. I'm thinking of adding some sort of powered chili pepper to the sauce.

March 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

Looks delicious... I love salmon, especially smoked!

Margot

March 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCoffee and vanilla

Hi guys, thanks so much for your comments, and I'm delighted to have your feedback on the recipe! Isn't it funny how often it's the simplest things that leave the biggest impression?

And Corey, you brought up a good point - what on earth is the male equivalent of the little black dress?

March 9, 2008 | Registered Commentermelissa

Thank you for the lovely recipe. Friends and I made it last week with sockeye, and it was just wonderful. I can't wait to make this in the summer when the salmon is fresh off the boat and then eat it out in the yard...

March 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

Thank YOU Melissa - always a pleasure reading your posts.

For Nathan - I'm kind of partial to heat myself, but neither my wife nor princess Ceilidh are. Try garnishing with some fresh Thai peppers and green onions sliced on an extreme bias (long thin rings). Want more heat, add more garnish.

The closest thing I've been able to think of to an "LBD" for a guy is olive chinos, button down collared shirt and a navy blazer. I know there have got to be some of your readers that can do better than that.

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercorey

Absolutely delicious, and the LBD reference is perfect. I linked the LBD too to food (to panna cotta) a while back: http://swirlandscramble.blogspot.com/2008/01/panna-cotta-epitome-of-classic-dessert.html

March 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMariannaF

Amazingly last year when visiting home (Canada), I had something so similar in a very expensive Italian recipe. My friend and I thank you for this! The sauce had vodka instead and was garnished with caviar for even more indulgence! :)

March 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCat

I'm going to stay with my new man this weekend, and as I packed the casual weekend equivalent of my LBD I realised I should probably have culinary equivalent as well, in case I'm called upon to show off my potential wifely attributes in the kitchen... Tested this recipe out on my flatmate this evening and he confirms that no man could fail to be impressed! I think I would reduce the amount of sugar as my tomato paste is quite sweet, and add the tiniest dash of cayenne, as a previous poster mentioned. The lemon thyme is an inspired garnish. Delicious - thank you!

March 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGemma

Made this for dinner tonight. So easy. So good.

April 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

Melissa,
We had a birthday dinner to prepare the other night and some smoked salmon to use so thought we'd try your recipe. We actually DOUBLED the recipe, wanting to be sure to have enough - of course we ended up with what we thought would be way more than enough. Melissa, we're far from pros at cooking, but this recipe was such a hit! The word delicious does not do it justice - and by the time people finished with second, and yes, third helpings - well, there wasn't much left after all! Thank you for this easy to prepare delight!

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlynn

This sounds fabulous - I'd like to see about making it in a 'backpackable' version, which probably means no cream or cream cheese. Anyone have any ideas?

May 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott

I stumbled across your blog today and have really enjoyed reading about your culinary adventures. I have one question in this posting, I don't understand this sentence:

"don't tell any Italian grandmothers, but I have been known to occasionally gild this lily with some freshly-grated parmigiano reggiano (I know, blasphemy!)"

Is it well known that nonas thumb their noses at parmigiano-reggiano? Do you know the line of thinking and what they prefer?

Thanks,
Essey

May 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEssey

Hi Essey - I made that joke because in traditional Italian cuisine it's very rare to find fish and cheese paired together, particularly in pasta. I'm not sure what the rationale is, though I've heard it's because Italians believe the strong flavor of hard cheeses can easily overwhelm the delicate flavor of seafood. Of course if the seafood itself has a strong flavor (like here), the restriction doesn't make a lot of sense, so my advice is to just trust your tastebuds!

May 25, 2008 | Registered Commentermelissa

This really is a great recipe, it has become one of my standards for occasions on which I either want to impress someone else or pamper myself. It's just so, so good.
If you DO happen to have leftovers, however, I would like to add that it makes for a great spread as well - you can just spread it on toast and enjoy it without reheating.

September 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

one of my favourute sort of pasta! and a lovely photo))

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrabbit's cookbook

I tried a version of this recipe with ricotta--it worked very very well, also a few chopped capers on top really makes this zing!

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Adams

Hey there Melissa!

I came across your fabulous blog, while looking for that "extra somethingl" salmon pasta recipe for my man's Bday dinner :) Am definitely trying this today -with a view to actually serving it on the day (29th).

Was wondering if you wouldn't mind giving me a couple of ideas re: the rest of the menu. Was planning to have little chocolate shuffles with vanilla ice-cream for dessert -would that be ok (combination-wise)? Also, what kind of salad and wine do you think would compliment this best?

Thanks in advance for all your time and help!

September 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterImogen

I was looking for some delicious recipes with salmon and I think I founded the right one here. My first and only salmon recipe was Salmon Quiche which was not so hard to make. This also doesn't look hard to make. Joanne don't give up!

March 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Jones

Oooh, no. No. No, no, no. Too much cream cheese, and cream, and ugh. I substituted half & half and light cream cheese. It had the smooth appearance of Pepto Bismol, and the consistency (and on-plate smacking sounds) of wallpaper glue. I squandered an AMAZING hot smoked salmon. The humanity!

And you all loved it! Who are you people? Tomorrow I will try to salvage the leftovers by diluting it 10 to 1 with water.

March 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>