Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ricotta cheese pasta sauce/butter baked salmon

Hi boys and girls. I know it's been awhile, but I'm hoping that with the start of a new month, I can get back to posting regularly. I've got lots of interesting dishes to cover, so hopefully you all haven't forgotten about little old garlicus maximus.

creamy ricotta cheese pasta

Today I'd like to talk about two dishes that are classic Cascone family recipes. First is my Nona's pasta in creamy ricotta cheese sauce, and the second is my parents' easy baked salmon.

butter baked salmon

When I first started cooking for myself, I usually had to call up my family members and make them walk me through my favorite recipes. These two dishes were among the first I ever tried to make for myself. I remember calling my Nona from Florence in the summer of 2007 so that I could get the proper ratio of ricotta to pasta water. A few months later, in the kitchen of my last Fordham dorm room, it was my mother who got the call when I needed to know exactly what she put on her salmon. In both cases, the answers were simpler than expected. Either one of these dishes would be quite at home in a Minimalist column, or a segment on 30 minute meals. Both feature just a few ingredients and taste amazing; it's no wonder my family keeps them in regular rotation for a fast and satisfying weeknight dinner.

The pasta dish is something my dad's mom used to make for us on the fly when we arrived in San Diego jetlagged and starving. It is so good and cheesy and creamy and yummy, and it also happens to be incredibly easy. Totally craveable. The salmon is something that my parents have been making for years and years and it is probably the reason that salmon is my favorite fish. I like it because it keeps the fish nice and moist, and doesn't mask the delicious taste of fresh salmon.

Nona's pasta with ricotta sauce

To be honest, these two dishes were not actually part of the same meal. However, I did serve one of them with each of the cauliflower dishes I covered in my last entry, and both are tested family recipes that never fail to satisfy and would certainly complement one another should you decide to eat them together.

Neither recipe is something that I have down to exact science. For instance, salmon fillets vary widely in thickness, so cooking time is dependent on the size of the fillet in question, so I don't really have real specific guidelines for you. Hopefully some basic guidelines will suffice instead.

Pasta in Creamy Ricotta Sauce
Cook your pasta as you would normally, perhaps with slightly less salt than you might otherwise use. Before you drain the pasta, reserve a couple of cups of the pasta water and set aside.

To make the ricotta sauce, mix equal parts pasta water and ricotta cheese and stir in the pasta. (I used awesome tennis racket shaped noodles, as you may have noticed.) The amount of water and cheese that you use is going to vary based on how much pasta you've made obviously, but I generally just stir it all together and add more as it is needed. Then I like to add a couple of tablespoons of romano cheese and a healthy grind of black pepper. If you're my dad, then you can also add some chopped parsley for color. (I may have done that myself in the hopes of creating a better photo.) Mix it all up and serve right away.

Butter Baked Salmon
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Season your fillet lightly with salt and pepper, and dot it with a couple of slices of butter. Bake until just cooked through, which will take longer or shorter based on the thickness of the piece of fish. I prefer thinner pieces myself, which cook up in a flash, but a real thick slab can take over 20 minutes. If the fish starts out really thick and then tapers down, then sometimes you need to cut it in half and bake the thick part longer. Otherwise, this is a really simple and delicious way to really enjoy the flavor of salmon. Despite its apparent lack of pizazz, this is really one of my favorite things to eat.

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