Friends, I think I'm getting old. Yes, laugh all you want, but turning 30 did something to me, messed with some brain cells maybe, I don't know. Even when all the synapses are firing, it feels like the receptacles took a lunch break and then a coffee break and then went to happy hour for some carne asado and margaritas.
We had a dinner party this weekend. Nothing fancy, just good friends, good food, lots of wine and laughing until 2am. In other words, my favorite kind of party. One of the girls is lactose intolerant, so when I was brainstorming dairy-free main courses, I just knew that I had to make this pasta. It's something that I came up with on the fly a few months ago, but the deliciousness is insane. My favorite part is how the textures and flavors play off of each other, how the asparagus is crunchy and garlicky, the shrimp are succulent and juicy and the salmon (marinated in a little mayo and spicy sauce) is so soft and flaky with just an aftertaste of heat, that you don't even need anything other than a dash of good olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh basil to pull it all together. I mean, this is a winner, a dish to be brought out again and again.
But back to my misfiring synapses. So the night before the party, I went food shopping to the brand spanking new Trader Joe's that opened up right near my house. I was being really good, following my list and not stopping at the aisles with the colorful boxes that promised me easy spanakopita or mushroom turnovers. I was getting down to the last few items on my list, the very bottom, and then... then I walked by the wine aisle. Do I even need to tell you what happened next? I walked out with five bottles of wine, and when I got home and unloaded my bags, and I looked at my list, every item was crossed off except the one in the biggest letters. PASTA.
Ugh. Ok, I thought, I'll just get it tomorrow when I drive by the supermarket to raid their fantastic olive bar. All the way to the store, I chanted "pasta" in my head... And then I walked by the wine aisle again, and there was new rose from Provence, and out of the two items I had to get at the supermarket (1. olives, 2. PASTA), the olives and the rose made it home. Laughing histerically, A. ran back to the store to get the box of pasta. The moral of the story? Once you turn 30, your brain becomes more interested in wine than in pasta. That's a fact.
Prep time: about half an hour
(serves about 8)
1 box (16 oz) penne pasta
1 lb shrimp
1 lb salmon (I used 2 fillets, 8 oz each)
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (I use the kind packed in olive oil)
4 cloves garlic
a large handful of fresh basil, chopped roughly
1/3 cup chicken stock or white wine
salt & pepper, thyme or whatever else you like
fresh Parmesan for topping
For salmon marinade:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp soy sauce
a few dashes of any kind of hot sauce (Tabasco, Worcestershire, etc.)
Marinate the salmon at least 2 hrs before cooking (or overnight): combine mayo, mustard, soy sauce and hot sauce in a small, shallow container. Wash and pat dry the salmon and rub the marinade all over the fish. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hrs to overnight.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box, but subtract about 2 minutes from the cooking time. You want the pasta to be a little undercooked, so not quite al dente. Drain the pasta and return to the pot.
Meanwhile, prepare your other ingredients: de-vein and peel the shrimp; wash the asparagus, dry it well, chop off the tough white ends and chop the stalks into about 2 inch pieces; chop the sundried tomatoes, if the pieces are too large to eat comfortably.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan (I like to use olive oil infused with either garlic or some herbs). Add the shrimp and cook for a few minutes until pink on all sides. Season with salt and pepper and add, along with the skillet oil, to the pasta.
Now, you should take the salmon out of the refrigerator. Preheat the oven, set a rack in the top third of the oven, take the salmon out of the marinade and broil it for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.
While the salmon is cooking, add another few tablespoons of olive oil to the same pan in which you cooked the shrimp. Crush all 4 garlic cloves into the skillet, stir for about 30 seconds and then add the asparagus. Here, it's really important not to overcook it (no one likes mushy asparagus), so I set my timer for 2 minutes exactly. Stirring often, cook the asparagus in olive oil and garlic for 2 minutes and add to the pot with the pasta and shrimp.
Return the pan to the heat, lower the heat a little, add the stock or wine to the pan and deglaze with a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon (when the stock/wine is added, it should sizzle a little and all the brown tasty bits will come loose under the gentle prodding of your spatula). Add the sundried tomatoes to the pan, heat for another minute, and pour the sauce into the pot with your other ingredients.
Set the pot over medium heat, throw in the chopped basil and stir everything for a few minutes until thoroughly heated through (this is why we undercooked the pasta, so it can finish cooking here and come out perfectly al dente). Season to taste. At this point, you can add a little more olive oil to help it come together. I like to add the olive oil that my sundried tomatoes were packed in to give it extra taste.
Your salmon should be pretty much ready just about now. Flake it gently with your fork into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the pasta on a platter and set the salmon on top. Serve immediately with fresh Parmesan, lots of garlic bread and wine.