Tuesday, August 5, 2008

That’s Not Kosher

taleg2The other night I sat home watching Thelma & Louise on Bravo. It was a Saturday night (to be precise) and my neighborhood was abuzz with the usual dating and drinking crowd. I know this because I left my apartment for the first time that day at around 11 at night, to buy pasta. Somebody’s single…and loving it?

When I got home, the movie was only a half hour in and I was procrastinating on writing the catering menu I needed to plan for seventy-five strangers, so I abandoned my usual “Never start watching mid-movie” rule, and jumped in at about the time Louise shoots the guy in the parking lot in Texas. This is my new weekend ritual: staying in—plopped on my couch for hours of mindless TV, my laptop perched at the ready, should I feel the urge to work, playing with my furry boytoy. Alone. On this particular night, I was also shelling and peeling about five pounds of summer peas and beans. It took the entire film to get through this task, so at a little past 1 in the morning I had only begun to boil that pasta.

img_4336I grew up in Buffalo with a palette for all things doused in cream and covered with cheese, but it wasn’t until I moved to London and started frequenting a little known spot in Bloomsbury called Ciao Bella, that I discovered my affinity for cream with, of all things, shellfish. While Thelma and Louise seem like a natural pair, the combo of dairy and fish is one that’s not quite common, not quite accepted, not quite kosher, stateside, but I beg you to reconsider it. My favorite Ciao Bella dish was a fusilli with chunks of salmon steak, jumbo shrimp and crumbles of gorgonzola cheese. I’ve made the recipe my own with a luscious cream sauce finished with a stinging Danish Bleu and a log of fresh goat’s cheese, a generous sprinkling of hand-shucked fava beans and English peas, sprigs of dill, locally smoked salmon, and wild pink prawns.

fish-and-cheeseLox and cream cheese are revered, so why not compliment the oily tenderness of smoked salmon and the delicate bite of briny shrimp with the tangy complexity of a robust bleu? No one’s been able to defend this supposed shellfish sin to my satisfaction, and I’ve even heard waiters snigger at me when I’ve requested parmigiano on my linguini con frutta di mare. Sorry, but I don’t care about dogma. My motto: if it tastes good, eat it! Sorry to my Jewish grandma, but I’m a foodie first (half-breed second). Far be it from me to throw thousands of years of Biblical tenets to the curb, but the shellfish and cheese combo is really too divine to condemn.

101-croppedStanding over the stove, I got to thinking about more than archaic menu commands. I got to thinking about Louise, and bad men, road trips, best friends, and a young, shirtless Brad Pitt. I pictured Celest in the driver’s seat, coasting up California’s Route 101, in cat-eye sunglasses and a headscarf, leading us on an adventure that hopefully won’t end with us shooting any truckers or driving off any cliffs. There will be plenty of both as we head for Nini’s Beverly Hills wedding come Labor Day and take the week to drive as far north as we can get, being sure to stop along the way for fresh farmstead fruit, Russian River Zins and Santa Barbara Pinots, and of course, cowboys. It won’t be our first vacation together, and it won’t be our last. Our combined wanderlust has taken us across oceans for real-deal gelato and perfect pizza Napolitano, and through blizzards for mamma’s homemade latkes. We’ve shared twin sized beds, turns with the curling iron, and even the same toothbrush, in a pinch.

Now that’s not kosher!

Smoked Salmon & Shrimp Fusilli with Summer Beans and Danish Bleu
(serves 1 with lots of leftovers or 4 for dinner)

  • salmon3 LB Fava Beans (shelled, peeled, or baby lima beans)
  • 2 LB English Peas (shelled or one 10 oz. pack of frozen Peas)
  • 1 LB Fusilli
  • 8 oz Smoked Salmon
  • 1 LB cooked Shrimp
  • 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 1 small chunk Danish Bleu (crumbled)
  • 1 small log Goat Cheese (crumbled)
  • 2 cloves Garlic (minced)
  • 1 bundle fresh Dill (chopped)
  • 2 TB Butter
  • 1 Lemon
  • Salt & Pepper

If you are using fresh fava beans and English peas, first you have the hassle of shelling them. But it’s worth it, believe me, just turn on a good movie and shell away. Then bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water. Blanch the beans and peas in the pot for 1-3 minutes to soften. When they turn bright green and float to the surface, before they go to mush, use a slotted spoon to transfer the lot to your prepared ice bath. The peas are all set but you still have to peel the outer layer of skin from the beans. It’s a process, but you’ll taste the difference not only in terms of flavor, but also in the distinct crunch of a sweet, summer bean.

Cook the pasta in the same pot of boiling salted water until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid.

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Next, pour in the cream and bring it to a heavy simmer (just don’t let it boil). Once the edges start to foam and a few bubbles appear in the middle of your pot, turn off the heat and stir in both cheeses. Stir constantly until all the cheese has melted and you’re left with a thick creamy sauce.

Combine all the elements in one pot, turn up the heat briefly to toss, and then turn it off: pasta, salmon, shrimp, peas, beans, dill, and sauce. Stir together adding reserved cooking liquid by ¼ cupfuls if dry. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper and finish it with a squeeze of lemon on top.

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