What do you cook the week of a move? (penne with smoked salmon cream sauce)


Last time we moved was 10 months ago. Our house was on the market in Georgia, and we were preparing for our first cross-state move since having children (for those of you who don’t have children, you can imagine what this is like by getting a mental image of all your stuff, then multiplying it 4 times, even if you don’t have 4 kids). We were saying goodbye to a place we’d been for seven years. It was an exhausting, emotional time, as well as a time of purging. A purging of stuff, of resources, and of food.

Meaning: I tried really hard to clean out our freezer and use its contents before the day I was forced to give or throw away the remains and pull the plug as we knew it. I had a short-lived series of posts called Freezer Meals that documented the eats I concocted during this process. My goal was simple: use up everything frozen. I don’t think I actually achieved the goal completely — but the effort got us a good way through my excesses in forward-thinking-ness.

This time around, there’s not a lot of need for cleaning out the freezer; we can just fill up some grocery bags, drive the contents a few miles down the road, and put them in their new icy home. So while I’ve tried to use up a few things that were at the end of their life, I’m now facing the week of our move and nothing to necessarily and creatively concoct. So when coming up with the menu this week, considering that boxes will begin multiplying and time will begin disappearing, my goal was simple: make everything fast and easy.

I thought a little ahead, and last week doubled a recipe of Sloppy Joes in a Bowl for us to pull out of the freezer one night. And tonight, I planned for a quick & easy pasta dish with a lot of payoff: Penne with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce. I forget about making this, so we don’t eat it often and it ends up being a surprising treat each time. I should put this on my list of dishes-to-serve-for-dinner-parties; it requires so little prep, and cooks so quickly, it would be easy to prepare and cook even as your guests arrive, and be served hot at the table.

This is a rich dish, and depending on your brand of salmon, can become too heavy-handed. It’s good to balance it with a nice big salad and serve small portions (this being said, my husband ate two heaping bowls tonight, and uttered not a single complaint about the weight of it all). Try to get wild-caught salmon if you can; I purchased a 4-oz package of smoked wild coho salmon from Trader Joe’s for about $5 — a good price for protein at dinnertime. If you don’t have arugula, you can season it at the end with a handful of chopped Italian parsley; but do try to add something green, as this adds a lot of color and flavor balance to a potentially one-sided dish.

The vodka is optional; it cleans the flavor just a touch, and when am I ever afraid to sprinkle vodka on something? If you’re in a bind, you can try to substitute half-n-half for the heavy cream; but the sauce will be more watery (if this happens, stir the sauced pasta over low heat to allow for more liquid absorption).

Penne with Smoked Salmon Cream Sauce

  • 1/2 pound penne pasta
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • dash vodka (optional)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • one (4-oz) package smoked salmon, torn into small pieces
  • large handful of arugula, cut into thin strips
  • salt and black pepper to taste

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil. Add 1 Tbsp salt, and pasta; cook until al dente (about 8 minutes).

At the same time you begin cooking the pasta, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onion and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes (do not brown onion). Add salmon and stir until it lightens in color (about a minute). Sprinkle the pan with vodka, and stir while the alcohol evaporates. Stir in the cream, and heat through. Remove from heat, and taste for seasoning (mine usually doesn’t need any salt because the smoked salmon is so salty).

Reserve a small amount of cooking water, and drain cooked pasta. Return penne to pan over medium heat, pouring the cream sauce over the pasta. Stir in the arugula, and heat for about a minute to allow the pasta to absorb some of the sauce and for the arugula to wilt slightly (if sauce becomes too thick, stir in some reserved cooking water to loosen the texture).

Serve garnished with chopped Italian parsley or more chopped arugula.


8 thoughts on “What do you cook the week of a move? (penne with smoked salmon cream sauce)

    1. Yes. My kids didn’t really eat it — and we (meaning mostly Tim) finished it. You could get away with maybe 6 oz of salmon, though, doubling everything else. The salmon really is a flavoring agent more than a filler.

      Don’t you wish you were here to help me? ; )

  1. Hey Katy,
    I made it tonight and we LOVED it!! I made it for Nathan and his mom and they raved about it. The package of salmon had 7 ozs so I made that and added extra cream. I made it using 4 shallots, since my onions were going bad and then added green peas (that were frozen and then cooked) at the end. It was super tasty!!

    1. Shallots are actually better than onions, I think — but I’m not good about having them around all the time. Need to work on that, since they’d be better than onions in a lot of recipes.

      Peas sound like a perfect addition!

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