Growing up, my family did not spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals. Dinner was a relatively simple affair. It was done with minimal effort and eaten promptly so we could resume with other matters at hand. Of course, those of you who know me might find this odd considering that my father, Alan Fryer, is (if I may say so myself) something of a talented chef. However, he and my mother were divorced when I was still young, so I divided my weekends between the two of them. Besides that, anyone who has ever been married to a chef will testify to the fact that the hours in the restaurant industry are long and hard and you may seldom see the person as much as you’d like.
So when I first visited the home of my dear friend, Renata, the experience was one that was new to me. Here, food was lovingly prepared by the entire family, and each character had a role to play. Renata’s father is exactly what one would expect of an Italian papa bear, warm and generous to a fault with a naughty twinkle in his eyes and a wicked sense of humour. Her artistic mother of Afrikaans heritage is seldom without an apron, either tending to the herbs in the garden or perusing decor magazines for DIY tips for her home, a calm and almost saintly force in this otherwise boisterous household.
Her father would grate the parmesan, while Renata and her mother perfected the robust pasta sauce. Her younger brother meanwhile would be tempering dark chocolate for the delectable after-dinner cherries. When one of them was not busy with a task, they would join me at the table in the kitchen for an aperitif, nibbling on the spread of glossy olives and especially sourced slithers of salami that had been laid out. I had found myself in foodie heaven.
Renata and I spent many years together waitressing in our early twenties, dreaming of one day owning a humble cafe of our own. I collected food magazines and created a scrapbook, filling it with sumptuous recipes and places that inspired me. We imagined a place where the wine and limoncello would be flowing and we could gather people from all walks of life together for a hearty feast. Who knows, perhaps there will come a time when we will see this dream to fruition. But for now, I will focus simply on cooking for the ones I love and this is fulfilling enough in itself.
My friends and family have licked their plates clean with this recipe so I hope that you will tweak it to your own tastebuds, make it yours, and enjoy it as much as we have.
This recipe serves 4, with the option of those who would like a little snack after a few more glasses of wine to go back for seconds. It could comfortably feed 5 if accompanied by a large green salad.
For the pasta dough:
300g white bread flour
3 tspns olive oil
3 medium eggs (ideally free-range or organic)
100g smoked salmon
2 cloves garlic
Half an onion
1 tblspn passata
1 tot vodka
200g frozen baby peas
150g feta cheese
sprinkling of fish spice and freshly ground black pepper
Knead the dough and leave it wrapped in clingfilm for half an hour before running it through the machine. If it feels too wet, add a little bit more flour as it will stick to the machine when you are rolling it out. If it does not feel pliable enough, add another egg. And so on and so forth until you feel the dough is right. However, so far, I have found this dough recipe to be rather foolproof.
Warm olive oil on a medium heat in a pan and add your diced onion half. A tip with onion, when you are slicing it, is to keep it in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm or in a tupperware beforehand. Because the onion is cold, it is less likely that its vapours will make you cry when you are dicing it. I sometimes like to have a good cry while cooking, so feel free to get teary-eyed with abandon too if you wish. Once the onions have begun to soften and caramelise slightly, add the chopped garlic, being sure not to let it burn.
In the meantime, slice the smoked salmon up into thin strips and put it aside for later. Place the frozen peas in a colander and run them under the tap for a few seconds. Then leave to thaw out. I like my peas quite fresh so I only add them to the pasta with the salmon at the very last moment.
After about 5 minutes of frying the garlic, you can add the cream and the passata. If you do not have passata in your pantry, you can use a smidge of tomato paste. Just remember that its flavour is much more potent, so use it sparingly as you don’t want to overpower the taste of the smoked salmon. Add your tot of vodka, stir, and allow to simmer while you get your pasta on the go. At this point, you can also season the sauce with the fish spice and freshly ground black pepper and turn the heat down.
The only important tip I can give you while making the linguine itself is to keep the dough that you are not rolling out, tightly sealed in the clingfilm so that it does not start to dry out or crack. Other than that, the basic instructions that have come with your pasta machine are sufficient. The final setting that I use for the dough before running it through the machine to be cut into linguine is the setting 3. But you might find for your particular machine, the setting is different. Go with whatever works for you.
Get the water in your pot to the boil. It helps to add to a little salt. I also usually add a drizzling of olive oil to my water, even though I know that Jamie Oliver would be very disapproving of this! Once the water is boiling, chuck in your linguine and stir perpetually. Remember that when you are cooking fresh pasta it cooks significantly quicker than store-bought pasta. All stove-tops emit a different degree of heat. For instance, if you are cooking on a gas stove-top, the time it takes for the pasta to be ready will be quicker than on my own. So all I can say here is keep tasting the pasta until you feel it is perfectly al dente. Then quickly drain the pasta and put it back into the pot.
Turn off both stove-plates (or if you are using a gas-stove, leave one on a low heat). Place the pasta pot back where it was on the stove so that you can use the residual heat (or on a gas-stove, the one with the flame) to bring it all together. Stir in the sauce, adding the salmon and the peas. Crumble the feta into the pasta and give it time to melt. And there you have it: salmon, baby pea and feta linguine in a creamy vodka sauce!
Featured artwork by Gianluca Corona