A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Back in the Kitchen with Michael: Capellini w/Salmon and Mushrooms (and a Salad!)

Has it really been 3 whole weeks since I've posted a cook-along recipe?  Boy, how time flies when one is attending Broadway openings with a renowned fashion model on one's arm, experimenting with French methods of home-scenting, and chasing towel-clad dancers around the locker room.  (Hi, George, if you're reading this — I'll be at the gym later this morning!)

[Note: do not read this caption unless you are George.]  Hi, George — remember me?  If this picture isn't ringing any bells, you could try imagining me in a towel.   (Oh dear, now I'm imagining you imagining me in a towel......)

Not to mention inaugurating a new teaching space, starting a program of working out under the guidance of a personal trainer, and walking the dogs for longer periods now that the weather is getting milder.  Whew!  It's actually a respite to enter the kitchen and spend some relaxing time cooking a meal.  The seed idea for today's project was the container of garlic scape pesto I'd discovered in the freezer yesterday.  What fun, to discover a few tablespoons of this heavenly stuff left over from almost a year ago — garlic scapes appear early on in the growing season, so we get them in one of our first CSA deliveries each year, in late May or early June, and I always make pesto out of them.

I went to Whole Foods yesterday (not directly from the gym this time, but after a little lunch break) with the mission to find something to go with the pesto.  I was thinking shrimp, but when I read the sign "U.S.-caught Gulf Shrimp" I changed my mind.  The pesto contains enough oil without adding an additional contribution from B.P.  (I can't imagine why, in the aftermath of last year's oil-spill disaster, the fishmonger thought that adding the word "Gulf" to his signage would encourage customers to choose his shrimps.)  Salmon was on sale, and looked fresh, so I bought a pound-sized fillet.  Then I found some interesting-looking trumpet mushrooms and threw in a box of capellini (angel-hair pasta), the delicacy of which I thought would complement the fish nicely.

I got all my goodies home, nestled in among $60 worth of other absolute necessities like cake and cheese, then decided to ease back into cooking with a relatively simple salad to accompany my pasta dish.  Shall we begin our cook-along with this salad?  (Again, I'm marking all ingredients in magenta to facilitate your shopping.  My salad recipe serves 2; the pasta dish, 4.)

Cucumber/Papaya Salad

First, I sliced a small pickling cucumber as paper-thin as I could manage with my slightly rusty knife technique:

I put the slices in a bowl, then added some papaya, diced small, and some chopped fresh oregano.

I made a dressing of 2 T fermented grape juice (very vinegary, from an Amish farm), 1/2 t ground roasted cumin seed, and 1/4 t pink Himalayan salt.  (By the way, I always roast and grind my cumin seed right before using it.  It loses its flavor rapidly.)

I poured the dressing over the salad, mixed it well, and let it marinate on the countertop while I prepared the rest of the meal.  Easy!  And the oregano/cumin mixture turned out to be an inspiration — well, it would have qualified as an inspiration if I'd not just grabbed the only fresh herb we had on hand.  The pairing of these pungent flavors was a bit strange but (I thought) very appealing.  Peter found the oregano a little strong in the amount I used, so it's a matter of taste.  The great thing about being the cook is that you can always  accommodate your own tastes....although I'm so co-dependent thoughtful that I often give precedence to what I think the other diners will prefer.

OK, enough self-revelation.....let's get back to dinner prep:

Capellini Pesto with Salmon and Mushrooms

To start, I gathered all my ingredients together:  One package of capellini (angel-hair pasta) and the remaining 3-4 tablespoons of 2010's garlic scape pesto.  (I don't remember exactly what went into this particular batch of pesto — something like garlic scapes, salt, EV olive oil, romano cheese, and almonds.  You could use any kind of pesto you have for this recipe.)

Also a few stalks of celery and the trumpet mushrooms I'd just bought (feel free to substitute clarinet or ukulele mushrooms if you prefer):

Some aged asiago cheese, which I grated.

And last, the pound of salmon fillet.  I removed and saved the skin and then flaked the flesh.  Actually, my skin removal technique was so crude (or maybe I can blame it on my tools) that the fish was pretty well flaked already when I set about flaking it.  Good thing I didn't want nice big chunks of fish for this dish.

Not knowing if my sauce was going to be liquid enough to coat the pasta, I decided to make a little fish stock to add just in case.  In a small pot of water, I brought to a boil the fish skin with a few pieces of asiago cheese rind, a bay leaf, some carrots, celery, oregano stems, cucumber peels, and a half-tsp salt.  (Clever way to use up the garbage produced in preparing this meal, huh?)

Once the mixture came to a boil, I reduced the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes or so, then strained it and put the liquid aside.  (The solid ingredients were truly garbage now, so I threw them away.  The chihuahuas also got a few tasty morsels thrown their way.)  I ended up with about a cup and a half of stock, of which I ended up using about a half cup for the pasta dish.

Time to make the sauce.  I sliced the celery stalks and mushroom stalks and heads and sauteed them for about 5 min in EV olive oil.  How much oil?  Who knows, I just dumped some in — just like B.P.  Rather a lot, I suppose, since mushrooms are such sponges to oil, and I wanted to end up with enough oil in the sauce to coat the pasta.

When the celery had softened a bit, I added the pesto and stirred it in.

Then I put in the flaked fish and about a half cup of the fish stock, stirred well, and brought the pot to a simmer.

I covered the pot, turned the heat to low, and let the fish mixture cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When it was done, I turned off the heat and left the lid on to keep the sauce warm until serving time.  Meanwhile, I had heated up a big pot of salted water and cooked the package of capellini, which took only 4 minutes.   I drained the pasta and served it into pasta dishes, spooned over some of the fish sauce onto each serving, and topped it with some grated cheese.

Please excuse the exposed flesh and visible undergarment in this picture.  We hadn't bothered to dress for dinner .  Now stop checking out Peter's leg and take a look at the food.
I loved the springtime colors of this dish — salmon and celery — provided by the, er, salmon and celery it contained.  We enjoyed it by candlelight, with small bowls of the cucumber/papaya salad (more salmon and celery tones!) and glasses of a really nice Finger Lakes riesling — sweet but not overly so — produced in a vineyard we'd visited on a vacation we took with Peter's mom our second summer together.

Wee Willy and Wiemer's Wine: 2 wonderful white products of the 2008 vintage.  Sorry the label is not legible; my camera chose to focus instead on the dog in the background.  The label says, "Hermann J. Wiemer, Riesling, Semi Dry, 2008."  Willy just says, "Woof," mostly.
Now get into your own kitchens for some relaxing meal preparations.  Or is cooking not a form of relaxation for you?  Let us know, readers — is your kitchen more a place of creative unwinding or a source of stress?  Perhaps that depends on whether it's a lazy Saturday afternoon or the day before Thanksgiving....


  1. I enjoy the idea of cooking - but the reality is that with birddaddy (who would be perefectly happy eating nothing but veggie trays and ramen noodle bowls) and the fledgeling (who complains at least once a week that I don't cook the same way as Neesa from daycare), it's more 'eating' than 'dining' chez birmommy.

  2. Sounds yummy. I would love your recipe for garlic scape pesto. We grow garlic and we always have a ton of scapes. Thanks!

  3. Love, love, LOVE salmon so your dinner is making me very hungry. Cooking is mostly relaxing for me, sometimes not so much. I think it depends on the day I'm having and how hungry I am.

    Last night we had Brinner (you know, breakfast for dinner) which really hit the spot. Haven't done that in a while. French toast, fresh-made hash browns, bacon, and over-easy eggs. I wish we had leftover French toast because I'd be having it for breakfast. (Hmmm ... what is leftover breakfast-for-dinner-for-breakfast called?) It was both relaxing and stressful to make, since there were a LOT of elements to be cooking so they'd all finish at the same time.

  4. @ Valerie: I can't remember exactly how I made the pesto, but there are many recipes to be found online. Here's one that is similar to what I did, although I used almonds, romano cheese, and a blender and kept mine for a year (in the freezer):

    1⁄3 c walnuts
    3⁄4 c olive oil
    1⁄2 c grated parmigiano
    1⁄2 t salt
    black pepper to taste
    1 c garlic scapes, top flowery part removed, cut into ¼-inch slices

    Place scapes and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and whiz until well combined and somewhat smooth. Slowly drizzle in oil and process until integrated. With a rubber spatula, scoop pesto out of bowl and into a mixing bowl. Add parmigiano to taste; add salt and pepper. Makes about 6 ounces of pesto. Keeps for up to one week in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. For ½ pound short pasta such as penne, add about 2 tablespoons of pesto to cooked pasta and stir until pasta is well coated.

  5. And I should really credit the source of that recipe:


  6. @ Debbie: Brinner Agin-ner?

    I am a huge fan of breakfast food at untraditional times of day. The pleasure seems to increase because I always feel a little naughty when I have, say, pancakes as a dinner entree. (This attitude of mischievousness was encouraged by my parents when I was growing up. Occasionally, we had a really far-out supper of something totally non-nutritious like banana splits....but it was food for the soul, if not for the cells!)

    I agree that meals that require the simultaneous coming-together of disparate parts can be stress-inducing. It's why I shy away from making such meals, and why I hold in such high esteem cooks who can pull it off. Like my mom! (Mom sometimes makes it look effortless, and sometimes gets a lot of mileage out of the drama of emphasizing the difficulty. It's always amazing and delicious, whichever mode she's in.)

  7. It sounds delish! I had never heard of garlic scrape pesto before-now I may have to try it.

  8. You definitely do have to try it. Garlic scape pesto has become one of my obsessions! I have come to like it even better than the basil kind.

  9. Mmm. Sounds delish and quick too!

    The chocolate arrived yesterday, unbroken even. :) Thanks!

    We do dessert for dinner now and again too, our favorite is strawberry shortcakes.

  10. Thanks, Michael! We should have scapes in about a month or so. Can't wait to try it!

  11. Sure, Valerie. Please report back with how your pesto turns out.