One of the best things about our cookbook challenge has been the opportunity it provides for us to visit with some of the oldies-but-goodies in our collection. You know how it goes – with each new option, the old standbys fade further and further into the background. It’s not because of anything they did or didn’t do; sometimes that’s just the way it is.
For us, Giuliano Hazan’s “The Classic Pasta Cookbook” is one of those faithful friends. Some of our first cooking experiences together while we were dating were taken from this book, which belonged to a friend: a basic pomodoro, a spicy all’arrabbiata, a rich carbonara. It had served us so well that I gave a copy to Elizabeth for Christmas one year, and I even reached out to the author to ask him to sign it. But changing cooking habits (we rarely make pasta anymore) and an influx of new cookbooks with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients have relegated Hazan to the bookshelf.
When we started the challenge, this was one of the books that we were most looking forward to revisiting. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we would hold onto it, but what dish would we make to test it (and ourselves)? Elizabeth was flipping through the book when she lit upon farfalle al salmone affumicato. The handy translation informed us it was “Bow Tie Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Roasted Bell Peppers,” and we knew we had a winner.
Besides…it gave us another opportunity to fire up the Big Green Egg!
Once we had the salmon smoked it was just a matter of making the recipe – details after the jump.
Hazan (whose mother is the Marcella Hazan who introduced the United States to classic Italian recipes and techniques back in the ’70s) notes at the beginning of the recipe that flaky smoked fish is necessary – lox just won’t do. Fortunately, we had 2 1/2 pounds’ worth of firm, flaky salmon ready to go.
We started off by roasting 2 red bell peppers under our broiler until the skins were charred and easily removed. After skinning them, we chopped up the peppers and threw them in the food processor with 2 peeled garlic cloves. We let the chopper do its job until we were left with a smooth paste.
At this point, we put the water for the pasta on to boil, adding the recommended 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. We threw 1 pound of farfalle in once the water was boiling, noting the 10 minute cooking time recommended on the package. No stranger to overcooked pasta (don’t even ask about my epic angel hair fail), I set the timer for 8 minutes so I could make sure not to overshoot al dente.
While the pasta cooked, we flaked 1/2 pound of the smoked salmon and added it to a saucepan with the pepper puree and 1 cup heavy cream. We added salt and pepper, but then we took the recipe a step further and added some fresh shelled peas that we purchased at the farmers’ market that day. Following Hazan’s instructions, we cooked the mixture over medium-high heat until the cream had reduced by half and the entire sauce had taken on a bright pink hue and a thick texture (about 9 minutes). At that point we removed the sauce from the heat and stirred in 2 tablespoons of shredded fresh basil.
As it turns out, my instincts were well served by the early warning system on the pasta. When the timer went off, we tasted the pasta and found that it was almost done. We turned off the heat and let the pasta sit in the water for another minute or so before draining it. As soon as the water had drained from the pasta, we added the sauce to the bowties and tossed them to mix everything together.
The dish had a great flavor, blending the smokiness of the fish with the richness of the cream and the sweet crunch of the still-nearly-raw peas. The basil added an unmistakable taste that asserted itself to varying degrees from bite to bite. It was a great meal across the board, though perhaps a bit heavier than we prefer at dinnertime.
This would make an amazing mid-day meal; it did when we tried the leftovers for lunch later in the week. It was even good cold, taking on a consistency like that of a nice, fresh pasta salad and still holding the flavors in a tight balance.
As I said at the beginning – Hazan’s book is too much of an old friend to even think about casting it aside. Coupled with another long-time friend (the Big Green Egg), it made for a meal that was memorable AND a reminder of why we enjoy working with both of them so much.