I love smoked salmon. It is so incredibly versatile, delicious and good for you, too. And it adds a touch of elegance to any dish in which it appears. Who could ask for more? One of our favorite weeknight dinners at home is this simple pasta with smoked salmon and cream. If using store-bought pasta, it can be whipped up in the time it takes to bring the water to a boil and cook the pasta. But simple as it is, this dish is also elegant enough to serve as the first course of an ‘important’ dinner.
For the pasta, I like to make this dish with fettuccine, the typical ‘ribbon’ pasta of Roman cookery, or tagliatelle, its slightly thinner cousin from Emilia-Romagna. To make your own fettuccine or tagliatelle, make your egg pasta dough and roll it out (see this post for instructions). The pasta sheets should be fairly thin for fettuccine, almost paper thin for tagliatelle. Then cut your pasta sheets into ‘ribbons’ about 1 cm (0.4 inch) wide. Pasta machines generally come with two cutters; use the wider one for fettuccine and tagliatelle. Like all fresh pasta, cook in well salted, gently boiling water for just a few minutes—fettuccine will take a bit longer than tagliatelle—tasting for doneness after 2 minutes or so. Cooking time will vary according to thickness and how long the pasta has been drying before cooking.
The sauce is incredibly simple: just melt some butter in a skillet, then add heavy cream and roughly cut up smoked salmon. Simmer until the cream has reduced to a saucy consistency and the salmon has imparted its wonderful flavor to the cream. Add your cooked fettuccine to the sauce and toss. Add a bit more cream if need be, making sure that the pasta still ‘flows’ rather loosely—fresh pasta tends to absorb its sauce quickly, and creamy ones especially quickly.
For a slightly more elaborate version, gently sweat a bit of shallot in butter, then add your chopped salmon and sauté until it loses its raw color. Add a splash of vodka, let is evaporate, then add cream. Add chopped parsley along with the pasta and proceed as indicated in the basic recipe.
As far as measurements go, as usual for this kind of dish, they don’t really matter all that much. As a general rule of thumb, I would suggest about half as much salmon by weight as pasta, but if you can use less according to your taste or what you have in your pantry. Even a little bit of salmon will give your dish a lot of flavor. For the cream, use enough to coat the pasta well but not so much as the pasta is ‘swimming’ in the sauce.
NOTES: Some recipes call for the additional of grated parmesan cheese, but I find that smoked salmon has plenty of flavor on its own. You can use fresh salmon instead of smoked in either of the variations mentioned above, but then season more aggressively as fresh salmon is not as assertive in taste as smoked.
While I like ribbon pasta best with this sauce, it lends itself to just about any type of pasta. Tagliolini, which are made just like tagliatelle but cut into very thin strands instead of ribbons, are lovely with this sauce. Short pastas like penne or farfalle would also work well. I would avoid large pasta shapes like rigatoni, which I feel are a bit too clunky for this elegant sauce—but that is really just a matter of personal preference.
There are other variations on the sauce. One calls for white onion and wine rather than shallot and vodka. And some recipes call for a bit of tomato, which makes a kind of salsa rosa, or pink sauce.