Everyone has a dish that they remember, perhaps from childhood or perhaps from a holiday, something that sticks out as being the absolute essence of Delicious. For D, it is a creamy salmon pasta dish that he once had while on a skiing holiday in Italy. He cannot explain what it was that made it so perfect, and, as with so many things, I suspect that it was partly a configuration of particular external circumstances that makes the memory so precious but, nevertheless, I wanted to have a creamy salmon pasta dish in the repertoire to please him.
The thing is, the majority of creamy salmon pasta dishes that I looked at are pretty much salmon, cream and pasta. Maybe a bit of white wine and/or lemon. There never seems to be much to them which I think makes them sound pretty bland.
Here, I’ve upped both the umami and the acidity. The shallots, Parmesan and, importantly, the anchovies, add a savoury note to the cream, while the wine and the lemony cooking dishes add much needed zing. I also really like the mustard here - not so much as to make its presence too obvious but just an underlying hum of warmth. Salmon, mustard and dill is a fantastic combination.
This is simple, quick to cook comfort food of the highest order. It may not quite live up to that one plate of pasta eaten by a young man in the Italian Alps, but the slightly older man who had it for his tea in a living room in Leeds seemed pretty content just the same.
2 salmon fillets
Half a lemon, thinly sliced
2 tbsp white wine
2 shallots, finely minced
Generous knob of butter
50ml white wine
150ml double cream
30g Parmesan, finely grated
Scant tsp of English mustard
Generous tsp freeze dried dill
150g dried pasta
Serves 2, generously
Preheat the oven to a 180. Put out a large square of tin foil and lay the lemon slices out in the centre of it. Season the salmon fillets well and then sit them, skin side down, on the lemon. Gather up the sides of the square foil, sprinkle over the wine and then bring the edges together to make a parcel. Bake in the oven for 15-20 mins (the timing will depend on the thickness of the fish) until the salmon is almost cooked through but still moist.
Once the salmon is cooked, the sauce can be prepared in the time it takes to do the pasta. So bring a pan of salted water to the boil and set a second, large pan over a low heat.
Tip the pasta into the water and set a ten minute timer.
Melt the butter in the other pan and, just as it starts to foam, bung in the shallot. It should be minced fine enough that it turns soft and translucent pretty quickly - 2-3 minutes. Add the anchovies and cook for a further couple of minutes until they have melted into the shallots.
Pour over the wine and turn up the heat. Reduce until practically all the liquid has disappeared and then pour in the cream and simmer for a couple more minutes. Reduce from the heat and stir through the Parmesan until melted completely.
To finish the sauce, flake through the cooked fish (discarding the soggy skin), ensuring that any fishy, lemony, winey juices also get poured in. Season with salt, pepper and dill.
Drain the pasta, reserving a little bit of cooking water. Stir through the sauce adding a splash or so of the water, if needed, to ensure a clinging texture (particularly pertinent if you prepare the sauce in advance).