‘Sometimes simple is good’, my boyfriend intoned while eating this. Although I would put most of my cooking under the ‘simple’ bracket, the ninety minutes or so it inevitably takes me to make a meal every night might suggest otherwise. While I don’t begrudge any time spent in the kitchen, I think I do have a tendency to eschew the overly simple out of some kind of strange culinary logic whereby a meal only tastes good if you’ve spent ages faffing around over it and it contains at least three separate components. This fifteen-minute pasta dish has proved me wrong.
Continuing my bid to use up all my lemon verbena before the frost hits its delicate leaves, I decided to use the crisp, citrus-scented leaves in a pesto to maximise their fresh flavour. A lemony pesto demands fish, so I decided to toss it through some linguine with flakes of deliciously tangy, buttery hot-smoked salmon. A tangle of watercress for peppery freshness, and some plump cherry tomatoes to cut through all that rich oil and fish, and you have a mighty fine meal for two in minutes.
The pesto comes together easily in a food processor (not very Italian I know, but lemon verbena leaves are stiff and probably wouldn’t break down very well in a pestle and mortar). I used oodles of those springy leaves, paired with lemon zest to accentuate their flavour, parmesan and pine nuts for depth, and some chopped chives because I happened to have them in the fridge. Bind everything together with some good quality olive oil, and it makes a delicious, subtly lemony pesto that works beautifully with the salmon and pasta.
You might remember my post last week, in which I mentioned working with Amazon to promote Amazon Student this month. If you’re currently a student and do a lot of cooking, I can really recommend Amazon Food (it’s not only books and technology!) I buy pine nuts (great for this pesto), seeds and other kitchen staples in bulk from there, and it usually works out cheaper than the supermarkets (without having to lug bags around). With a trial of Amazon Student you get unlimited one-day delivery on millions of products, including some food items, so it’s definitely worth it if you do a lot of cooking (and if, like me, you get stressed out by having to spend time shopping/panic if you don’t have an ingredient at the last minute).
If you can’t find lemon verbena, any herb or mixture of herbs would work well in this pesto. Basil, dill, parsley, chives – mix it up a little, as long as you have that important base of pine nuts, garlic, parmesan, salt and oil. You could swap the salmon for trout or mackerel, or leave it out altogether and just have the lovely tangy tomatoes. Simple is good.
Linguine with lemon verbena pesto, hot-smoked salmon and cherry tomatoes (serves 2):
For the pesto:
- 1 fat clove garlic, peeled
- 4 tbsp toasted pine nuts
- Zest of half a lemon
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp salt
- 15g fresh lemon verbena leaves
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
- A good grinding of black pepper
- 6-8 tbsp olive oil
For the pasta:
- 160g linguine
- 1 large hot-smoked salmon fillet, flaked into pieces
- 20 cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
- Two large handfuls of watercress or rocket
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Freshly ground black pepper, to serve
For the pesto, put everything in a mini chopper and blitz, adding enough oil to give a loose consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
Cook the linguine in boiling, salted water for around 9-10 minutes, or until just al dente. Drain and toss with the pesto, watercress/rocket and tomatoes, and the salmon flakes, until the greens are just wilted, then divide between two plates. Serve with lemon wedges and lots of black pepper to grate over.