(Fresh) Pasta with Smoked Marlin
Tuesday, 7 February 2012
I had a friend in elementary school whose mother was Italian. Like, REAL Italian, born in Italy, in the last town on the heel of the boot (I’m guessing now, in retrospect, that this was Lecce?). At Christmas, her family had a party, and her mother would make the most amazing food…that’s the first time I remember eating this dish. Farfalle con salmone e piselli – butterfly pasta with salmon and peas. Amazing that I would remember it 25 years later – but it really was that good.
Little did I know then that I would have a love affair with Italy later in life: spending a semester in Padova during college, and a summer in Milan during law school. And the food – oh, the food! Some of my fondest memories of Italy are associated with food: eating risotto con gamberi e zucchini at a dinner party in the Procaccini’s castle outside Pavia; fresh, light ricotta at their house in San Sossio Baronia near Naples; piadine with spicy arugula and salty prosciutto late at night in Romagna; lardo in Ferrara; incredible ovoli – a type of mushroom – in Milan with Piero; fritto misto with Tigi in Marina di Ravenna. My first tortellini in Bologna with Angela were a revelation. Along the way, I learned some techniques from my roommates in Padova, others from friends’ mothers – but while I never ate this dish in Italy, somehow I figured out on my own how to make a passable replica.
And then I discovered smoked marlin.
If you live in Jamaica, and you’re lucky, you will know someone who catches marlin, and keeps a big hunk of it, smoked, in their fridge at all times, and is willing to share. If you’re less lucky, you will go to the supermarket and when you find them, you will buy and hoard packs of smoked marlin in your freezer, using them judiciously for appetizers for special people, or with cream cheese on an occasional breakfast bagel for yourself. Either way, you will quickly learn to stock your pantry with pepper jelly and capers. Smoked marlin quickly becomes a habit. You can find smoked salmon here, at exorbitant prices – but remember: Nyamist strives to cook with local ingredients. And why use imported smoked salmon, when we have an amazing local substitute? (If you are reading this and live elsewhere, feel free to substitute smoked salmon for the marlin in this dish – but then make your way to Jamaica and try some marlin – you won’t be sorry!). I haven’t seen any local green peas since I’ve been in Jamaica, so I usually omit them – if you find them frozen, their sweetness gives a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the marlin – but don’t sweat it: this dish is plenty good without.
So, this recipe is a love letter to Marcella, and all the Italian cooks who have taught and inspired me along the way. It is an adaptation of a classic, to local ingredients, with utmost respect. I hope you remember your first time eating it as vividly + fondly as I do mine…
(Fresh) Pasta with Smoked Marlin
1/2 medium onion, diced fine
2 oz smoked marlin, diced fine
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp heavy cream or cooking cream
200g pasta: farfalle (if you can find them), fresh tagliatelle* – pretty much whatever you have available
1-2 Tbsp salt (for the cooking water)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
optional: 1/2 cup frozen tender tiny peas (do NOT use canned peas – better to go without)
Sauté onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until translucent. Add smoked marlin, cook for 1 minute, and shut off heat.
Bring water to a rolling boil, and add salt just before adding the pasta. Cook according to package directions (if you are using the peas, add them to the boiling water 3 minutes before the pasta is done). Drain.
Turn the heat on the onion-marlin mixture to low, add the cooked pasta and cream. Season with black pepper and salt, if necessary (the smoked marlin can be quite salty). Toss pasta to coat – 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.
* I have been on a fresh, homemade pasta binge of late, courtesy of my dear friends Adria + Andrew. The thing is: it’s so so SO easy, and the results are phenomenal. For this recipe, take about 3/4 cup of all purpose flour, and either stick it + 1 egg in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a food processor) and mix until you have a dough that’s about the consistency of your unflexed forearm muscle (I know, I know – it’s a weird analogy, but it works, assuming you’re not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or something (incidentally, can you SMELL what The Rock is COOKING??)). If you don’t have a stand mixer or food processor, simply pile the flour into a mound shape, make a crater in the top, crack the egg in there, and use a fork to beat the egg gradually into the flour. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes or so, knead it a few times, and then crank it through a pasta machine, to the thickness and width desired. Fresh pasta cooks really quickly – usually 3 minutes or so.