Salmon Puttanesca

Bright, briny, and brilliantly bolstered with happy heat, Pasta Puttanesca is a favorite amongst cooks short on time and big on hunger. Garlicky tomatoes, onions, salty anchovies, olives and capers, along with herbs and a little wine for good measure, all come together quickly in a hot pot and are typically ladled on top of a bowl of steaming pasta topped with grated cheese and fresh parsley or basil. If you’ve made the sauce and had a little leftover in the fridge, you know it’s also good next morning on grilled bread or scrambled eggs or even just cold in your spoon.

Turkey stock on for Turkey-Wild Rice Soup

Thanksgiving in the rear view window and my tight jeans had me casting around for a new way to serve salmon yesterday. Not having made it to the grocery for our weekly pickup yet, I was stuck with the remains of fresh or cooked produce from the holiday, what was in the freezer, and my usual suspects or ingredients in the pantry. Peering into our upright freezer the day before, two frozen salmon fillets had caught my eye and instead of rummaging through frozen shelves and freezing my fingers as per usual, I grabbed them without further ado and tossed them into the fridge to thaw. Next day, a glance into the cupboards in the garage revealed an astoundingly large variety of beans, several remaining sad cans of puréed pumpkin and evaporated milk (who knew how many pies I’d need?), 2 sizes of canned tomatoes, a teetering stack of anchovy tins bought on sale, among a ponderous pile of other food items I simply can’t live without. Just in case I want to make 5 gallons of chili or 10 different cookies anytime day or night, you know. Tomatoes and anchovies went into my apron pockets as “puttanesca” flew through my brain, and back into the kitchen I went. I’d never heard of Salmon Puttanesca before, (maybe you have?) but that sort of thing has never before stopped me. Now that we’ve eaten it, I’ve no doubt it’ll be on the salmon rotation again ere long. I wasn’t rushing, but we had a healthy, delicious dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. It tasted nothing like cranberries, sage, pumpkin, or turkey, either, so why not try this?

Never leave fish in a hot pan all by itself. It quickly becomes lonely and cooks itself to a dry, unhappy state wondering where you’ve gone to.

salmon puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca is so fast, easy, and cheap, that it’s a fine answer to, “What’s for dinner?” most any night since it’s made of pantry ingredients. If you have a little leftover, it’s lovely over scrambled eggs, spooned onto a piece of grilled bread, or eaten cold with a spoon for those in a hungry hurry. In this case, we make a small pot for the explicit purpose of gracing a couple of salmon fillets, which may be even quicker than the traditional pasta. Black olives are usually called for, but since I like kalamata and always have them on hand, I’ve included them in this recipe. Serve the fish on a bed of mashed potatoes, couscous, or rice if you like, cooking these things – and a green vegetable if you like — ahead of the sauce and warming at serving time. Crusty bread is another option. Need more? This meal is easily doubled or tripled, and you could roast a side of salmon in the oven instead of grilling fillets. If you’re cooking for one, do cook both fillets and eat the leftovers cold or just briefly warmed.
serves 2

Ingredients

For the Puttanesca sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Small yellow onion, diced
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon each dry oregano and dry thyme
  • 3 anchovies, chopped
  • ¼ cup dry red wine
  • 15- ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup sliced kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers-rinsed and chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh julienned basil (Can sub parsley) — garnish for serving

For the salmon:

  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 4-ounce salmon fillets

Instructions

  • PREP: Preheat oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and add serving bowls or plates to center rack. Take salmon out of the refrigerator, pat dry, and set aside to warm up a bit while you make the sauce.
  • MAKE THE PUTTANESCA SAUCE: Into a 2-quart sauce pan, drizzle the oil and heat over medium flame. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and let cook 30 seconds. Add onions and season with a generous pinch each salt and pepper; cook 5 minutes or until softening. Stir in garlic, oregano, thyme, anchovies, and red wine; cook, stirring, for a few minutes until wine is reduced a bit. Pour in the tomatoes and stir in the tomato paste, olives, and capers. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  • COOK THE SALMON: Heat skillet or grill pan over high heat for about two minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet or brush grill pan grates with oil. Drizzle patted dry fillets with olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper, and add to pan or grill skin side down. Lower heat a bit. Let cook about 3 minutes until you can see the salmon skin is becoming crispy and the fish appears to be getting done about half way up from the bottom. Turn over carefully and cook another 3-5 minutes or until done until your liking. FDA says 145 degrees F for fish. (I take salmon off at about 125 and let it rest a minute or so, serving it medium.)
  • SERVING: Add a salmon fillet to each warmed bowl or plate and spoon sauce over. Garnish with fresh basil. Let rest a minute or two and serve hot.

Notes

The timing of cooking the salmon fillets will vary depending on beginning temperature of your fish, how hot your pan is, how thick the fillets are, etc. Undercooking is always better than overcooking as the salmon will continue to cook a little from residual heat after it’s removed from the pan and you can always cook a little more, but not a little less. Don’t walk away or start texting or your fish will overcook and dry up from inattention. An instant read thermometer is a good help if you’re just starting to cook fish, but your eyes are your best tool here.

Fishy little notes: 1. You can cook salmon from frozen if you’re desperate. Start oiled fish over high heat skin side up, turn after a minute or two and season with salt and pepper; lower heat and cover until done to your liking and skin is crispy. 2. You can thaw salmon fillets quickly if they’re in a sealed plastic bag. Just put the bag in a pot of cold water with a weight on top — like a saucepan filled with more water. Depending on how big the fillets are, it may take 20 minutes. This works well with pieces of chicken, chops, ground beef, and so on, too.


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Looking ahead to Christmas

MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED

Pasta Puttanesca: What’s With the Name/ITALY Magazine (You can listen to the article read in Italian, too.)

A Tale of Three Turkey Soups/MORE TIME AT THE TABLE

Cranberry-Apple-Pear Coffeecake (Christmas)/MORE TIME AT THE TABLE

Chocolate Covered Cherry Oatmeal Cookies/MORE TIME AT THE TABLE

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bread/MORE TIME AT THE TABLE

LIFE GOES ON

Thanksgiving, my very favorite time of year, is over, and it was different, but it was wonderful just the same.

We cooked a 16-pound turkey on the gas grill (no grill taste) in 2 hours.
In the morning, we delivered meals to friends.
In the afternoon, we came home and ate at our table for two.
In the evening, we facetimed with our kids and grandkids so that we shared the day if not the meal.
Friday morning, there was pumpkin pie for dessert breakfast. Of course there was whipped cream. And coffee.
Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, the tree went up–earliest ever. We need it.

As December begins, I wish you peace and breath, good health, and happy connections with those you love. I’ll be baking and delivering cookies, making many batches of David Lebovitz’ snack mix, and planning a Christmas feast for two. I’ll keep you in the loop the whole time. What are you planning in your kitchen? What’s on your bucket cooking or baking list? It’s a great year to make all the things — or at least one thing — you always thought you would.

Meantime, stay warm,

Alyce

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