This is my favorite kind of food blogging. I thought of something to prepare for dinner on the train back home from work, using what I knew was in my fridge. I prepared and photographed it, we enjoyed it for dinner, and the same night I am sharing it with you all. Pasta al forno (baked pasta) is a weekday alternative for lasagne. It took me about 40 minutes to prepare it (including taking the photos), and then it took another 20 minutes in the oven.
Spinach and salmon are a well-known combination. Spinach can be a bit astringent, which I fix in this dish by mixing it with a moderate amount of besciamella (white sauce). I had some milk that needed to be used, so this way I could kill two birds with one stone so to speak. I started by dicing and seasoning the salmon, so the seasoning could penetrate into the flesh. Then I cooked the spinach and the pasta, and prepared the besciamella. The spinach and besciamella were pureed in the blender, and then mixed with the pasta and the salmon. I added a nice handful of parmigiano, as this is one of those exceptions to the rule in Italian cooking that seafood and cheese don’t go along. The result was great, so I’ll definitely make this again. The flavors all work really well together. Here’s what I did…
For 2 servings (the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for more servings)
300 grams (.66 lb) salmon fillet
150 grams (.33 lb) penne or other short pasta
400 grams (.9 lb) spinach
250 ml (1 cup) milk
25 grams (2 1/2 Tbsp) flour
25 grams (2 Tbsp) butter + more for greasing the oven dish
two handfuls freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (about 50 grams / 2 oz)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start by rinsing and drying the salmon, dicing it, and seasoning it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. It is important to season the salmon at the start so the salt will have the chance to penetrate into the fish. This will make the salmon stand out more in the final dish.
Wash the spinach. Cook it with the water that clings to it (we call that aanhangend water in Dutch)…
…until it is wilted and tender, about 8 minutes.
Drain the spinach in a colander or sieve.
Cook the pasta 2 minutes less than the time indicated for al dente in salted water while you cook the spinach. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, hence the 2 minutes less. Drain the pasta as soon as the timer beeps.
To make the besciamella, heat up the milk in the microwave until there are some bubbles on the edge (it shouldn’t boil). Melt 25 grams (2 Tbsp) of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
When the butter has melted, add 25 grams (2 1/2 Tbsp) of flour.
Stir and cook this mixture (called a roux) for a minute over low heat.
Add the warm milk all at once.
Stir energetically to prevent lumps.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for another minute over low heat.
Squeeze most of the water out of the spinach by pressing down on it with a spatula while it is in the colander, then put it in the food processor. Add the besciamella to the spinach.
Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary with a spatula…
…until the mixture is smooth. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
Mix the parcooked pasta with the spinach mixture.
Add a handful (30 grams) of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. Stir this in, then adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. I like spinach to be quite salty.
Add the salmon…
…and stir to incorporate.
Butter an oven dish, and transfer the mixture to the dish. For 2 servings, I used a 20 cm (8 inch) square oven dish.
Cover with freshly grated parmigiano.
Bake for about 20 minutes at 200C/400F, or until the top starts to brown.
The casserole is now ready to be served.
Dutch pancakes (pannenkoeken) are thicker than French crêpes and thinner than American pancakes. They are also delicious. They are Kees’ favorite food, so I make them every year for his birthday.