Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fish Pasta

Recently, I've been preaching a lot about simple food that lets the taste of summer come through.  I don't want anyone to think, for a second, that I cook that way all the time, that I have always cooked that way, or that I think that is the only way to cook.  Much to the contrary, in fact.  I happen to have a specialty which I refer to as "Pasta ala Whatever the Heck I Have in the Fridge."  This is usually a garbled mess of - literally - whatever the heck I have in the fridge that could conceivably go on pasta.  Not so much a clean taste of summer - more a good way to get rid of food before it goes bad.  I would love to be fancier than I am, but let's be clear on one thing: I am not a chef.  I am just some girl who likes to cook.  And, lots of times, I make mistakes.

Ive been cooking for myself for a long time now, and I'm starting to be successful more often than not - but there is still plenty of "not."  Cooking isn't a science, it's an art.  And it's not something you're born knowing how to do... unless you're a cooking genius savant... which I am not.

You can try to learn how to cook by reading cookbooks and watching TV.  I do this.  Okay, I do the TV part.  This is helpful, but it's not enough.  It gets you good ideas and makes you want to try new things.  It helps get you excited and makes you more excited, but it won't actually teach you how to cook. 

You can try to learn how to cook through eating.  I recommend this.  Highly.  Try new restaurants in your area.  Try new foods.  One thing I like to do is get the weirdest sounding appetizer.  That way, if it's gross, I'm probably out less than $10, and I still have a meal coming.  If you order something great, and it's not too busy, ask to talk to the chef. What did they do?  What spices are in there?  Fresh or dried?  In my experience, chefs wont give you all the information.  They have their secrets, and they aren't too quick to part with them.  After all, if everyone could cook as well as they could, they wouldn't have a job.  But most of the time they will answer questions.  Especially smart questions.  Especially ESPECIALLY smart questions surrounded by flattery.  Chefs are, as a general rule, pompous, arrogant d-bags who think they are better than they are, and who loved to have their bread buttered by the customers (figuratively, not literally,because they probably didn't make the bread and if you eat too much bread you won't have room for dessert.)

What was my point?  Oh, yeah.  Eat out.  Try new food.  Ask questions.  It will help you conceptualize food and open your palate to new experiences.

But it won't teach you how to cook.

Nope.  The only way to learn how to cook is also the only way to learn how to walk.  You just have to try.  You will fall down.  But you have to get up and keep trying.

After you read that awesome recipe in the newspaper, or see it on TV, try to make it.  Try to find two or three or more recipes and blend them together into one recipe.  Try to cook without any recipe at all.  See what works.  See what doesn't.  Sometimes things won't work.  Most of the time it will still be edible.  Sometimes you will have to order pizza.  Or Chinese.  Or sushi.  Mmmm.... now I want sushi....

My long winded point is this - you have to try.  If you don't try something new, you won't learn anything new.  And you can't expect to try new things and never expect to fail.  Failure isn't bad.  Failure is good.  Failure means you're growing as a person.  Failure can be fun.  "Happy Accidents" often create the most exciting results.  I'm no food historian, but I would like to believe the invention of wine went something like this: "La la la... Oh my!  What happened to my grape juice that I stored in this oak barrel?!  This is delicious!  Let's have a party!!"

Today's recipe wasn't a happy accident, but it was a result of many years of learning.  I have learned, although still make this mistake, that more things in my pasta doesn't always equal better pasta.  And I have learned that too much dill wrecks everything - even fish which is supposed to go great with dill!

This week was also a learning experience - specifically in the form of my spinach pasta, which did not turn out great.  It's delicious, but the pasta is really stuck together in big clumps.  I'm not sure why that happened.  My theories are:

1. I rolled it to thin.
2. I didn't let it dry long enough before freezing it.
3. I packed it too tightly into the bags before putting them into the freezer.
4. Something else.
5. Some combination of the above.

There's only one way to solve this mystery - keep making pasta until I can store it perfectly.  From my experience, that should be in about 30 years.  But, on the plus side, I get to keep eating fresh pasta until that point.

I did get more fish from Sweet Water Organics, who now have a booth at the South Shore Farmer's Market.  I am a lot better at cleaning them than I was the first time.

It's all about practice.

Spinach Pasta with Dill Cream Sauce, Zucchini, and Fish
 (serves 2)
Prep time: About 15 minutes, not counting cleaning the fish
  • 2 servings of fresh spinach pasta (about 8 oz) (L*)
  •   3 tbsp butter, divided (L)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (L)
    Tiny Fillets....
  • 1 tsp fresh dill, finely chopped (L*)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (L)
  • 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced (L)
  • 8 small lake perch fillets, or the equivalent to be enough to serve two people (L), (when I say small, these things are tiny, as you can see in the picture)
  • Salt and pepper
Cook the pasta in well salted water until about about two minutes before it is done. 

Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp of the butter in a large pan.  Add the cream, dill, and salt to taste.  Bring to a gentle simmer.

The goal is to have the pasta be done right around the same time that the sauce comes to a simmer.  Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and allow it to finish cooking as the sauce thickens up slightly.

Meanwhile part 2, heat 1 tbsp of the butter in a second smaller pan over medium heat.  Saute the garlic until it is lightly golden and scented, then add the zucchini and increase the heat to high.  Saute quickly, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Add to pasta and sauce.  Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining one tablespoon butter, and quick fry the fish.  If it is as tiny as mine was, it should take about two minutes on each side. Dish the pasta into large bowls, and top with the fillets. 

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