20 May 2015

Smokes Like a Fish, Drinks Like a Chimney

There is something of a poetic northern-ness in a sauce made with smoked fish and vodka. Skål! 

Rose pasta sauce with smoked fish on homemade pasta.  Other than vodka, without the trimmings, is there a better way to get through the end of pantry and freezer season?

Smoked Fish Vodka Sauce with Fettuccine

2 tbsp olive oil
Use a vodka with some flavour in it, none of that invisible
stuff you bought in your teens early 20s.

10 cloves garlic, smashed (or less if you are afraid of garlic, but this really isn't overly garlicky)
2 dried red chili peppers
6 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp vodka
1/4 lb of smoked char (or substitute with smoked salmon or trout), torn or crumbled into small bits
4 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp butter

a three-egg batch of hand-made pasta, cut in fettuccine (or wider) size

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium.  Add smashed garlic and chilies.  Cook, stirring, until the garlic is softened.  Increase heat to med-high and add chopped tomatoes.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to med-low.  Stir occasionally until reduced by about a third.  Add vodka, and continue to let the sauce reduce.

Don't worry about precise chopping or mincing of
ingredients, not only will it all cook down to mush, but
you're going to blend it up anyway.
Put a big pot of water on for your pasta. (If it boils before you are ready for it, turn it down to a simmer until you are ready.)

When the tomatoes are mostly broken down and the sauce looks thick, remove from heat.  Allow to cool enough to puree in a blender.  If you are fastidious, wipe your pan clean and pour sauce back into it through a sieve.  If you can tolerate a more rustic sauce, just return the blended sauce to your skillet.
Bring back to a slow boil after adding the smoked fish, then
reduce the heat and stir in the cream and butter.  Once the
butter is melted and it's all nice and evenly combined the
sauce is ready.

Re-heat the sauce over medium. When it starts bubbling, stir in the smoked char. Cook the pasta now.  When the sauce to returns to a consistent bubble, reduce heat to low and stir in the cream and butter.  When the butter is melted and the cream is combined remove from heat.  This should happen about the same time your pasta is cooked.  Stir a wee bit of the pasta water into the sauce for good measure.  Drain the pasta and serve with sauce.

Makes 4 large or 6 moderate servings.


I like this sauce for poetic reasons as well as gustatory ones.  Although it's roots are admittedly in penne alla vodka, it's a great pasta for northern latitudes: smoked fish and vodka.  This is not a light meal, but it's not so heavy it will put you into a coma either. Good comfort food for the distressingly cold evenings we're still experiencing here.  In May.

You can almost smell the smoked char through the computer screen, can't you?  To serve, garnish with chive (admittedly, chive is, in fact, growing already) and some old hard Italian cheese like Sovrano.

We emerged from a few weeks of fog into a stretch of sunshine, so at least we're starting to build stores of vitamin D again.  Back to fog for a few days, but sun promised in the long-range forecast.  It's all a bit maddening even when the sun is shining because it looks like summer... as long as you are looking at the sky and the sea, and not at the brown hills and the leafless trees.  Yet, ridiculously, I may need to mow the lawn tomorrow for crabgrass control, but none of the desirables are out yet.*  Definitely still pantry, freezer and booze season.

*Okay, that's not technically true. The garlic is coming up nicely and just this morning our rhubarb started to leaf out.  Early flowers like snowdrops, crocus and alpine primrose are out.  But seriously, it's mid-May already.

Make hay and all that.  We'll still head out into that brilliant light, completely under-dressed for what turns out to be a very frigid coastal hike.  We'll blame the icebergs for this instead of poor planning, but we all know the ocean will be cold for months still and the chilly onshore breeze will be welcome in July.  We'll go out to garden, and be too hot with the sun on our backs, stripping down to t-shirts... until we stop moving anyway and need to pile sweaters and gloves back on.  We'll wear our sandals, even though our toes are frozen, because for two full hours one afternoon sometime last week it was warm enough to get them out and now, dammit, it's sandal season.  We'll sit out on the porch wrapped in blankets because we want to have just one beer outside.

They make really good smoked char up in Nain, Labrador.
The only real proper evidence of spring is that trout season opened on the weekend.  And although I swear the best fish for this recipe is smoked char from the Torngat Fish Producers Co-op of northern Labrador I suppose some of your home-smoked trout** would work too.

**If you want to send us some of that home-smoked trout, we'd be happy to try it out for you before you make it... you know, just in case I'm wrong...

13 May 2015

How to Make Pasta

This is an excellent kitchen basic to have in your repertoire... and an easy way to impress pretty much anyone.

Being able to make a basic pasta from scratch will serve you well in life.

Basic Egg Pasta, Hand-Made by You

Make a well in the flour for your eggs, salt and oil.
I've written the recipe on a per-egg basis because that's how I remember it. Also, it's easy to make as much or as little as you want.  As a point of reference, 3 eggs yield about 1 lb of fresh pasta (4 large or 6 small-ish servings).

for each egg:
100 g flour*
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Beat the wet ingredients together lightly.

*Use italian 00 flour if you have it but don't feel like you need it.  I normally use a mix of about half all-purpose and half durum semolina.  You can also use a mix of all-purpose with whole wheat or spelt flour.  Or just all-purpose.

Gradually work the flour into the egg mixture, scraping your
work surface as necessary.
Pile the flour up on your work surface** and make a well in the center of it. Fill the well with your eggs, salt and oil.  Using a fork, beat the egg mixture lightly, then begin to to gradually incorporate the flour into the egg mixture until it's too thick for stirring.  Work the remaining flour in with your hands.

**I use a large plastic serving tray, which is easier to clean than the counter and helps reduce the amount of flour which ends up on the floor, which is subsequently vacuumed up by Miss Bella the english springer hoover dog, which then results in great snorting and sneezing.  Somehow the discomfort of snorting and sneezing has never dissuaded her from spending the entire time I'm making pasta squished between my shins and the lower cupboard just in case some flour manages to fall.
When you get to this stage, your fork is no longer any good to
you.  Start kneading to finish incorporating the flours.

Knead the dough until smooth.  This will take about 9 minutes.  In the first couple of minutes, the dough will become evenly combined, then it will seize up.  You haven't done it wrong: knead through the stiffness, I promise it will relax and become pliable.

Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 25 minutes. This is a good time to make some sauce.
The dough is ready when you have kneaded the flours in,
kneaded until it seized, kneaded through the stiffness, and
ended up with a smooth, soft dough.  Let it rest before rolling.

If you are using a pasta roller, divide the dough into pieces about the size of an extra large egg.  Flatten and dust with flour to prevent sticking in the roller.  Run the dough through on the largest setting, fold over and run through again (dusting exterior with flour as needed) until it comes through smoothly.  Run through the same setting once more. Reduce roller setting by two sizes and run the dough through twice, dusting with flour if needed. 

Divide the dough into sections for rolling.
Continue to reduce roller size by two until desired thickness.  When rolling is completed, dust the pasta sheet generously with flour and set aside, covering if necessary to prevent drying out. Repeat with each section.

(If you are rolling by hand, divide the dough into manageable sized pieces for the size of your work surface and roll to desired thickness.)
Keep the dough well-floured to prevent sticking.

If the cutter that came from your pasta maker isn't broken because none of your cats knocked it onto the floor, use it to cut the desired width. 

If you don't have a working cutter, roll the well-floured sheets of pasta up and cut the desired width with a sharp knife.


This pasta freezes well, so you can make a large batch and freeze what you don't need.  Make sure it's well-floured to keep it from sticking together, but cook it directly from frozen (don't thaw) to avoid having damp flour glue the nicely separated pasta together.

When you are ready to cook, add pasta to a large pot of vigorously boiling water, stirring as you add to help keep things separated.  Fresh pasta will be cooked in 1-3 minutes (test as you go, it's done when it is firm and tastes fully cooked), depending on how thick and how wide it's cut.  From frozen it will take 2-4 minutes.

Roll the pasta sheets up into coils and use a very sharp knife to cut to desired width.  You can use this recipe for stuffed pasta and lasagna too, but follow recipe directions for cutting.


I do not have an Italian grandmother who taught me to make pasta, but I do have all the Italian grandmothers of the miracle of the internet.  Plus a few years of trial and error.  This recipe is a result of that, and for me, delivers the most consistently good results and disappointingly few dinner party leftovers.

Pasta making is a good skill to have.  No matter how good the pasta you buy in the store is, it's never as satisfying and never as impressive as the pasta you make by hand.  The pasta roller spends about as much time on the counter as the tortilla press, and it would be very difficult to decide between them which would be my desert island pick.***

***Okay, you are correct, the obvious answer is to take a rolling pin, but that's not much fun as a thought experiment, is it?