Cooking when not in your own kitchen is a mixed bag. It can be wonderful when this other kitchen is superior to yours and a considerable tad less so when you find yourself lamenting your own decrepit electric stove.
I still recall one occasion with such fondness…I thought I had died and gone to kitchen heaven.
I found myself cooking in the amazing kitchen of a recently renovated barn home. I was preparing a 5-course meal for a fundraising event and had, much to may amazement, 5 willing volunteers at my beck and call to help me prepare the meal. Why…I felt like a real chef!
Fully stocked and functional, this kitchen seemed to anticipate my every need. All I needed was to utter the name of the cooking utensil I desired and it magically appeared from a drawer or pantry or cabinet.
And the stove…oh the stove!!!!! It was an AGA 6-burner Gas Cooktop with two separate ovens. It offered the most amazing control over the flame, folks. Unbelievable. I almost felt like a professional bank thief cajoling a safe’s lock…the smallest incremental turn to the left or right actually made a difference to what was happening on the pan or in the pot! It was a wonderful evening and, much to my relief, everything came out great.
Today, I unfortunately did not experience the same exhilaration as I prepared this tasty spaghetti dish.
Today, I cooked in the kitchen of a house my husband Erik is renting, fully furnished, until his 6-month client assignment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, ends at the end of August. (Yes, I’m happy that our long-distance, weekend-only relationship is coming to an end!)
Today, I wanted to start drinking before 10 a.m., which is not a particularly good sign. Alas I did not, because unless I’m on vacation and donning a bathing suit and straw hat, I find myself uncomfortable drinking before 5 in the afternoon. I’m funny that way. Especially when the girls are home with me, on summer vacation. Go figure.
So I struggled on, ‘unbeveraged.’ I went to look for a spatula. Not such a strange cooking implement, I dare say, but there was none to be found. So I flipped the salmon with the shallowest spoon I could find. Which was also cheap plastic. Yuck.
I went to open a package of feta cheese, which was in a block, and instinctively looked for some kitchen scissors. But…you know where this is going, clearly…I found none and ended up having a tug of war with possibly the dullest knife I’ve ever had the misfortune of cooking with (and no, there was no knife sharpener either!) as I attempted to open the feta’s plastic wrapping. I eventually got it open, and thank goodness that all I needed was feta crumbles because that’s exactly what I had on my hands when I was done!
And the stove. Well, it was NOT an AGA. It wasn’t even the passable, old Whirlpool electric range I have at home. But it did eventually heat up to high…after 10 minutes or so.
Well, I got the job done.
And a good thing too, because this little unpretentious spaghetti dish is so very satisfying. The rich, slight sweetness of the cooked leeks balances out the freshness and slight tartness of the feta cheese, while the slightly caramelized crust on the flaky salmon bits adds a savory and mildly smoky quality that just makes everything blend together fabulously and subtly.
And because this dish uses salmon, it becomes company-worthy fare.
making salmon, leeks & feta spaghetti
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous handful of Kosher salt to the boiling water.
Also, prep 4 leeks for cooking. If you’ve never done this before, no worries! It’a a snap.
Melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat and allow it to bubble so that its water content evaporates.
Add the leaves of 3 sprigs of fresh thyme and allow to cook for a minute or so.
While this is happening, completely paper towel-dry a 1 lb. (450 gr.) piece of skinless salmon filet.
Just before adding the salmon fillet, season it with salt and freshly-cracked black pepper. It is important to wait until the very last to add the salt because otherwise the salt is going to start drawing the water out of the salmon and say goodbye to a good sear in the pan.
Add the salmon, pretty side down.
You should hear a happy sizzle when the salmon hits the pan. Because I am not cooking in my kitchen and don’t have access to my pots I’ve had to cut the salmon fillet in two to make sure it cooks well in this slightly smaller pan that I have at my disposal.
Cook the salmon for 3 minutes and then flip and cook the other side for an additional 2-3 minutes, depending on how firm you want your salmon flakes to be.
I would opt for cooking it a little less myself, but my girls like it nice and firm and so I indulge them by cooking it for 3 minutes instead of 2.
Remove the salmon and place on a plate. Allow it to cool for a few minutes and then flake it with a fork. You can also use your hands for this as well.
Now, add the washed and drained leeks into the pan and mix thoroughly.
Cook covered for 5 minutes, mixing the leeks halfway. Them lower the flame to medium and continue cooking for 15 more minutes, occasionally stirring.
When the leeks are 10 minutes or so from being done, add 3/4 lb. (340 gr.) of spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to their directions. When nice and al dente, or cooked but firm, drain them very well in a colander.
Add most of the cooked spaghetti back in the pasta pot and pour the cooked leek mixture and 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter on top.
Then pour the remaining cooked spaghetti in the skillet where the leeks have cooked to sop up any additional condiment stuck to the pan. Pour that back into the pot as well. Mix well. Add the flaked salmon pieces and mix very well once more.
Arrange on your plate and sprinkle feta cheese and fresh-cracked pepper on top, to taste Serve immediately. Feel free to add some red pepper flakes if you desire. Makes 6 servings.