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Eric Akis: Cold-smoked salmon stars in creamy fettuccini dish

Pasta entree features ingredients used for bagel and lox
Creamy fettuccini is adorned with dill, smoked salmon and fried capers. ERIC AKIS

B.C. cold smoked sockeye salmon is a splendid food and a modest amount can lift a dish to tasty heights. That was certainly the case with today’s recipe, where about 100 grams of it added to fettuccini made it look and taste luxurious.

To sauce and flavour that fettuccini, I used ingredients you might tastily set on a bagel topped with smoked salmon. They included red onion, cream cheese, dill and capers.

The onions were sautéed in a skillet with a bit of garlic, and then some cream cheese and milk were stirred in. When the cream cheese had melted and blended with the milk, a sauce had been created for the hot cooked fettuccini I tossed into it, along with some chopped dill and grated Parmesan cheese. I also added a bit of the pasta cooking water, loosening up the sauce and causing it to nicely coat the noodles.

Cold-smoked sockeye salmon, sometimes labelled lox, although the latter is made using a different process, is made by smoking brined fillets of the fish at cool temperatures, around 21 C to 32 C, which helps to preserve the salmon’s rich colour. This type of smoked salmon looks almost raw and has an appealing silky texture when sliced.

To preserve these qualities, rather than add my sliced pieces of smoked salmon directly into the sauce for the fettuccini, I instead set them on top the pasta just before serving it. As you eat the pasta, the warmth from it and sauce heats the salmon through, but does not alter its fine colour and texture.

To finish off the fettuccini, I also topped it with some capers that were fried in olive oil until crispy, creating an inviting garnish for it.

The fettuccini recipe serves two but could be doubled and made in a very large skillet if you require four servings of it.

As noted in a previous column, the best-selling Canadian book, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, says to measure how much dry spaghetti to serve per person, make the size of a quarter with your thumb and index finger. One portion of spaghetti, when bundled together, is what fits into that “hole.” This method also works for other long, thin pastas, such as fettuccini, and when I used it, it yielded the 100 grams I served per person in my recipe.

Creamy Fettuccini with Smoked Salmon, Capers and Dill

Fettuccini tossed with a rich cream cheese based sauce flavoured with dill, set in a bowls, and adorned with slices of silky smoked salmon and crispy fried capers.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp capers

2 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

200 grams dry fettuccini

1/2 cup halved and thinly sliced red onion

1 medium garlic clove, minced

125 grams (1/2 cup) firm cream cheese, and room temperature

1/2 cup milk

2 to 3 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste

2 tsp chopped fresh dill (see Eric’s options)

4 to 6 thin slices cold smoked sockeye salmon (about 85 to 100 grams), cut widthwise, into 3/4-inch thick strips (see Note)

• dill sprigs and lemon slices, for garnish (optional)

Thoroughly pat capers dry with paper towel (this will help prevent splatters when you fry them). Set a small, fine sieve over a small bowl.

Place 1 Tbsp of the oil in a small skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the capers and fry until crispy, about 30 to 60 seconds. Pour and drain the capers into the sieve. Now drain the capers on paper towel, transfer to a small bowl, and use as directed below. (The oil leftover after frying the capers can be used to flavour salad dressings, baked fish recipes and other dishes.)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While the water is coming to temperature, pour remaining 1 Tbsp oil into a 10-inch or similar-sized skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about three to four minutes. Now add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the cream cheese and milk to the skillet and cook and stir until cream cheese melts and is blended well with the milk. Mix in the lemon juice, season this sauce with salt and pepper, and then remove from the heat and cover.

When water is boiling, and the pasta and cook until tender (check package for suggested cooking time). When pasta is cooked, scoop out 2/3 cup of its cooking water and set in a bowl. Now drain the pasta well.

Set the skillet back over medium, medium-high, uncover sauce and mix 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water into it. When sauce is hot again, toss in the pasta along with the grated Parmesan cheese and chopped dill. If the pasta looks too thick, mix in some or all of the remaining pasta cooking water.

Divide fettuccini between two heated shallow serving bowls. Artfully top each serving with some smoked salmon and fried capers. Garnish with lemon slices and dill sprigs, if using, and serve.

Note: While buying cold- smoked sockeye salmon, take note that it can vary in price depending on where you buy it, who produced and in what format it was sold, such as in bulk from a case at a seafood store or supermarket, or frozen in a thaw-when-needed package. When I recently did a survey of several stores selling it, its price varied from $6.99 to $12.99 per hundred grams. So do shop around if price is a concern.

Eric’s options: If you don’t like dill, replace it with an equal amount of chopped parsley or snipped chives.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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