Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Simple: Pasta with Smoked Salmon (or Ham) and Peas

I realize I have been laying out fairly complicated recipes recently, with numerous ingredients -- which is the way I typically cook. But I have student friends with both limited time and kitchen supplies. So here's an elegant dish for an upscale supper or for impressing a date, requiring few ingredients and limited time.

This surprisingly simple pasta composition is typical of northern Italian cooking. The basic recipe uses smoked salmon, but it's easy to switch to ham, or even smoked turkey, instead. Usually a pasta dish like this in Italy is served in modest quantity as the entry course to a dinner, coming after the appetizer course (antipasto, or before the pasta) and ahead of the main meat or fish course. But if, following the American custom, this is served as lunch or a light dinner, accompany it with a fresh salad and warm crusty bread.

The recipe serves six generously as a meal, even six students. A half recipe can be made if it really is for the pasta course of a large dinner. For the salmon (or turkey) version accompany with a crisp Chardonnay. The ham version would go with a medium-bodied Italian or Spanish red wine or a Pinot Noir.

Pasta with Smoked Salmon, or Ham, and Peas Tim

1 pound penne rigati pasta, small type (pennete) preferred
1/2 pound sliced smoked salmon or sliced cured ham (or sliced smoked turkey)
2 cups frozen peas, small type preferred
1-1/3 cups half and half cream
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley for garnish

Boil six quarts of water in a large pot, and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Prepare the sauce ingredients before cooking the penne.

Cut the salmon or sliced ham (or smoked turkey) into roughly 1/2-inch squares and set aside. Place the frozen peas in a microwaveable serving bowl, such as a pasta dish. Heat in the microwave 30 seconds, stir, and heat for 30 seconds more. Add the cream, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (If using ham, add it at this point.) Microwave again, just until butter is melted. Set the bowl aside.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, and stir well at first so the pasta does not stick together. Boil, stirring occasionally, until a piece of pasta is just tender when you bite it, 4 to 6 or more minutes, depending on the pasta. Drain in a colander. Do not cool it with water.

While the pasta is cooking, place the serving bowl with the peas and cream back in the microwave and heat for about 1-1/2 minutes, or until the cream is close to boiling along the edges. Remove from the microwave and add the smoked salmon (or turkey), if used, and cheese. When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss it in with the sauce. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary (usually this is not needed, since some salt comes out of the salmon or the ham).

Serve immediately, dusted with the minced parsley. Accompany with more grated cheese.

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