This pasta dish is adapted from one that was first made for me by my French Exchange partner, Pauline, who was a great, natural cook in that infuriating French way. She became legendary in my family for the time she was staying with us and sent my dad out to buy bacon lardons (which we had to look up in the dictionary) and a dozen eggs to make an incredible quiche Lorraine. Since we only ever (ever!) bought eggs six at a time, and rarely cooked with more than two or three at once, the decadence of a ten-egg quiche was quite memorable. This pasta dish was another part of her repertoire, which I have adapted and served up in several different incarnations over the years. With its tangy, creamy sauce and the classic pairing of salmon and dill, it’s a wonderful spring or early summer dish, and with a little scaling-up, a great way to feed a crowd on a budget. (It’s also going to be my submission to Saveur’s pasta recipe contest, because why not? Hence it’s laid out a bit more conventionally than normal.)
Spring Fusilli with Salmon and Asparagus.
Ingredients (for four)
One large, fairly thick salmon fillet (approx. 3/4 lb or 400g)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bunch of fresh dill
Bundle of asparagus spears**
Box of wholewheat fusilli or penne (approx. 13oz/375g)
1 cup plain, whole-milk yoghurt
1/2 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Time: 30 mins
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse the salmon fillet and pat dry. Arrange it on a large sheet of foil on a baking sheet, season, and drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Top with a handful of torn dill and a layer of thinly sliced lemon. Bring up the sides of the foil and scrunch together to make a loose parcel. Bake for 20 mins or until cooked through.
Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta and salt generously.
Trim the hard ends from the asparagus spears and rinse well. Place in a metal colander or strainer and set aside.
Add the pasta to the water and season well. About five minutes from the end of the cooking time, place the steamer with the asparagus spears over the pasta. Steam until they are tender and the pasta is cooked al dente.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Mix together 1 cup whole milk plain yoghurt and half a cup sour cream or crème fraîche until smooth and creamy. Stir in a generous handful of dill and adjust to taste.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pan with a little of the cooking water to keep in moist. Mix in the sauce, reserving four tablespoons for topping.
Chop the asparagus spears into bite-size chunks and stir into the pasta. Keep warm.
Remove the salmon from the oven and flake generous chunks into the pasta dish. Mix together, warming gently if necessary, and adjust seasoning to taste.
Serve topped with a tablespoon of sauce, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of dill.
*According to Wikipedia, the story I had long believed, that “asparagus” was a reverse-corruption of “sparrow-grass” (ie, that it was essentially rebranded in Britain to sound posher and further away from the common-as-muck everyday crop it actually was) is itself reversed. ‘Asparagus’ is derived from Latin, but the corruption was so common that the OED quotes John Walker, in 1791, as saying ‘Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry.’
** This dish also works well with sauteed or steamed zucchini in place of the asparagus.