August Nights-Salmon Tomato Pasta

—————————If you love fish, raise your hand.

Summertime and fish; I love summertime and fish. Growing up in land-locked Illinois, you would think fish was not a big menu item. In truth, SEAFOOD was not a big menu item; we didn’t have the “fresh, flown in daily” availability of today. Though our best source for fresh seafood in even more land-locked Colorado (at least Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota had real lakes) sadly has disappeared; Par Avion is no more. Summer, however, in the midwest, meant boo coo fish if you were blessed to have a fishing family as I was. We spent vacations on the lakes, jumping in the boat still hungry at dawn to slip out into the quiet dark waters in order to snag (bad choice of words for fisherpeople) the best spots by sun-up. Red-striped thermos at hand (sharing the plastic cup when it was your turn for a swig), we would later dip into a bag with cheese, sardines and saltines–all the breakfast needed for right then. Later, mid-morning, when the sun was hot and high, we’d make for shore, spend a half-hour in the fish-cleaning house and run to the cabin for the real breakfast Mom loved to cook.

————–It isn’t too late for vacation, is it?
In some movies and books, I remember being amazed to see folks who fried up fish for breakfast while on vacation. While such a thing might have happened to us, I don’t remember it. Eggs and sausage and biscuits were the order of the day with an occasional change to eggs and potatoes. Another big pot of coffee was brewed in the tall aluminum pot on the stove, left on low to thicken slowly as the morning wore on toward lunch. Between the two meals, it was time for a snooze on the porch or in a chair in the common area. Once in a while, someone just piled up back in bed. After all, it was vacation. My parents worked long, difficult hours and months; Mom as a nurse, Dad as a welder. They lived for weekends and vacations as they traveled and fished new and old waters, eating up the bounty during the trip and bringing home large catches to store in the home deep freeze so that we had a change from pot roast and chicken come winter. Both my parents cooked and both were good at it, but no one cooked fried fish like my Dad.

————-Eating fried food without guilt and humiliation….
In my world today, if you say “fried fish,” you are pretty much saying really bad words. Any word with “fried” in front of it is much like swearing in twenty-first century America. It seems to be ok if you fry it in extra-virgin olive oil!! I guess the idea is that if you eat fried fish (or chicken or whatever), you will probably suffer a heart attack within the week, if not that day. “Heart attack on a plate” is a common expression and, I think, is unjustified. My parents and their families ate fried food all their lives, though they balanced it with large amounts of vegetables and a lot of physical labor. How often did they eat fried food? I’m not sure I know. Maybe once a week. Certainly no one thought anything of it. In those days, running through the McDonald’s drive-through for french fries was not possible. If you were going to eat anything fried, you had to go through the trouble of preparation and the mess of frying all by your lonesome. I’m guessing people didn’t eat quite so much of the stuff if they had to wash the pots and stove themselves. Much easier to say, “I’ll take the meal deal.”

Dreaming of fried fish, I sadly do not cook it. I sometimes long for it and on the very rare occasion will order a couple of pieces in a restaurant. Once every couple of years maybe. I do, however, cook many kinds of fish and seafood when I can get the fresh stuff at an affordable price. Ahi tuna (a favorite) is too often more than I want to pay. I did fix it this week; yum. Maybe a Hawaiian vacation in a condo is in my future. Salmon, on the other hand, is readily available (unlike during my childhood years) anywhere in the country and has become so commonplace that huge hunks are for sale at food clubs. Bags of salmon are even dwelling in freezer cases of regular grocery stores. (What is a regular grocery store any more? I’m thinking we’ll soon be down to Walmart or Whole Foods soon.) Of course there are caveats…only buy wild salmon. Healthy food can be the most expensive. (Lots of good people working to fix that.) Watch for a sale and buy a good-sized piece. Cook extra if you can. Leftovers make great sandwiches, omelette fillings or spreads (mixed with cream cheese, fresh dill and lots of black pepper). My favorite use for leftover salmon is to just shred it into scrambled eggs.

———–Steamed? What?————–Oh, grill, too?—
Here’s one of my summer fish pasta recipes you might want to try; it’s good in the winter, too. I cooked the salmon indoors; feel free to grill it. One of the fastest and simplest fish preps is to cook down some veg in a large saute pan and then steam the fish on top of the veg; you’ve seen another take or two on that tune elsewhere in the blog. Quick, healthy, delicious. You don’t have to go out for fish. Unless you go to a fairly nice restaurant and spend a few bucks, you’ll be eating frozen fish. This is also a great meal to make for one.

Salmon Tomato Pasta
serves 2-3

3/4 lb. fresh linguine
6-8 asparagus spears, cut into 1″ dice

2 large onions, sliced
2T olive oil
2 large tomatoes, cut into eighths
1 red sweet pepper, cut in 1″ dice (optional)
3 6 oz salmon filets (or a bit more than a pound, cut into thirds)
4 -5 cups fresh spinach
10 fresh basil leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c white wine or chicken broth
Kosher salt ; freshly-ground pepper
1/2 lemon
Parmesan, optional

Bring 6qts of well-salted and peppered water to boil in a large stockpot. Cook pasta as per package directions, adding cut asparagus for last minute or two of cooking. (I like to add a little fresh basil to the cooking water.) Drain and return to partially covered pot to keep warm.

Meantime…. In a large saute pan (12-14 inches), saute onions in olive oil until soft. Add cut tomatoes (and peppers if you choose to use them) and season with salt and pepper. Cook 1-2 minutes and place salmon on top of vegetables. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes. Add spinach, basil, garlic and wine. Season again and cook until salmon is just barely done, another 4-5 minutes at altitude, depending on thickness. It should be a tad rare. Salmon will continue to cook as you plate it; you don’t want it dry. Place a serving of pasta on each plate and top with vegetables and salmon. Squeeze a little lemon all over each serving. Pass parmesan at table if you choose to serve it.

Alternate prep: Fix veg and pasta indoors; grill salmon (lightly oiled) over medium heat until nearly done.
Plate as above.

Wine: I’ll often opt for Pinot Noir with any salmon dish, but its summer and you might pour a French rose or a California Chardonnay if its too hot for red wine. Even a Spanish Albarino would be an affordable and tasty match.

Dessert: Colorado peaches, of course. We’re not known for much in the way of food production, but its peach season on the Western Slope and what else do you need? For a really beautiful presentation, slice them thinly in the bottom of a large wine glass and top with a generous serving of Moscato d’ asti. Why not?

Some more of Margo’s beautiful flowers….

Its summer in Colorado (though nights are pretty cool) and surely in the rest of the country. Still time to eat on the porch, or even sitting on the front steps. Still time to sit in the sun and feel its warmth wherever you need it most. Still time to bless both the season and the food and just enjoy the day. If this meal takes twenty minutes to make, including prep, I’ll be surprised. Cook for someone you love today, quick.

Sing a new song,

Leave a Reply