Spring has sprung here, so before it gets too hot to put the oven on I need to get all my winter, comfort food out of the way to make room for my hot weather cooking. Now I’m afraid you’re going to have stick with it for a minute while I explain the story behind this dish. It all started with leftovers. I love to make pizza, and Graham’s favourite topping is a traditional Margherita; a simple tomato topping with fresh basil leaves and mozzarella (the bocconcini or buffalo variety, not the plasticy pizza topping stuff). Now the problem with cooking pizza is I have to put the oven on very high, so we only really do it in winter. Now this always frustrates me because I don’t like to buy fresh herbs, I prefer to cook seasonally and use what’s available to me in the garden. We have an abundance of basil in summer, but not a single leaf in winter as the type of basil I like (the sweet Italian variety) dies off and I have to re-plant in spring. Are you still with me?! So the exception to the rule of no herb buying is basil for pizza, but I don’t need a whole bunch of basil for pizza, and rather than let it go to waste I like to use it in other dishes.
The other by product of pizza making is the bocconcini. The smallest packet I can get is 220g and you certainly don’t need that much for a pizza, especially, if like me, you like to make white pizzas that don’t need mozzarella. With these leftovers I needed to come up with a quick dinner. I know what your thinking, the obvious option is a salad, but I only end up with these leftovers in winter when I have to buy the herbs, so a winter, comfort food dish was required.
So there you have it, my crazy story behind a dish that has become a firm family favourite, and one that I like so much, that I would consider buying the ingredients rather than waiting for the leftovers.
I adapted this dish from one I found on the BBC Food website. I substitute the canned salmon for the fresh variety, as I just prefer it and I use cooking cream or creme fraiche instead of the mascarpone as I don’t want to end up with another tub of leftovers that I have to use, and mascarpone is pretty pricey here.
- 300g Rigatoni;
- 300ml passata;
- 60ml cooking cream/creme fraiche;
- 400g salmon skin and bones removed;
- 220g bocconcini/mozzarella;
- large handful ripped basil leaves;
- 60g breadcrumbs;
- 30g pine nuts;
- Parmesan to taste;
- Salt an pepper;
- olive oil.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Prepare the sauce in a large bowl. Mix the passata with the cream and stir in the basil leaves.Season the sauce to taste. Meanwhile, part boil the pasta for a few minutes less than the packet says. I usually do mine for 5 minutes, as the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce in the oven and I prefer my pasta to be al dente rather than suitable to serve up to a baby.
- While the pasta is cooking, chop the salmon into bite sized chunks (not too big or the salmon won’t cook) and rip the mozzarella/bocconcini into small pieces. Stir the salmon pieces into the sauce. You can also stir the mozzarella into the sauce, but I prefer to evenly distribute the mozzarella in the dish once I have put the pasta in it so that I know I will get my fair share.
- Once the pasta is ready, drain it and combine it with the passata sauce and pour it all into a large lasagne dish. If you haven’t added it already, evenly distribute the chunks of salmon and mozzarella throughout the dish and then top with the breadcrumbs, pinenuts and Parmesan.
- Drizzle in olive oil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the topping is brown and crispy and the salmon is cooked. You could serve it with a green salad or peas, but I like it just the way it is, and plenty of it!