Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dark Days Dinner #11: Pasta à la Vodka con il Pesce

I can hardly believe another week has come and gone. Is this what happens as you age? Time moves more quickly? Fewer things seem to get accomplished? The amazing part of it is that I don't even see it happening. Last thing I remember of this week was the Super Bowl. Next thing I know it is Saturday morning again, time for pancakes and what has become the weekly trip to the farmer's market. What happened to those days in between then and now?

Of course, there was the slight complication this last week of one sick little Bug in the house. Or I could say lots of bugs that brought sickness to the house? Enough sickness was in that we did not send the little guy to day care either Wednesday or Friday, and I had to take a sick day myself from work to tend to one very clingy, snotty, coughing, feverish child. Enough sickness that we were all pretty tired around here this week.

Now, I'm new to this mothering thing, but I am learning pretty quickly that more important than anything in my somewhat chaotic life of mine right now is the happiness of that little boy. This week there was little I could seem to do to comfort him other than be at his side. And quite honestly, I didn't want to be anywhere else. Oh that decisions in life could always be so easy.

In the midst of my little world of humidifiers, thermometers, tissues and hugs, yesterday my father dropped off another bag of fresh-caught fish from Owasco lake. Many people seem to think living in this climate with winter temps hovering in the teens for days on end is absolute nuts, but I honestly think my dad revels in it. A fisherman at heart, one of the greatest joys of his retirement has been the freedom to be out on the lake, pole in hand (either in a boat or on the ice, depending on the season) on days when the weekend crowds are non-existant. He goes often with friends, but I almost get the feeling that his favorite trips out are those when he goes alone, tending the tip-ups, watching the sky turn pink and then orange with the setting sun, and (maybe, though I don't believe it is critical) coming home with a pail full of perch.

There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind.  ~Washington Irving

If our winters weren't so cold, I think my father would be far less serene between the months of January and March. Odd, but true. I'm certain of it.

Of course, we, his family and friends, benefit from this too, in more ways than just his cheerful mental state. As far back as I can remember, I've loved his fishing too. Family vacations to the Thousand Islands for the opening of bass season were anticipated for weeks. I'm not so sure I actually caught many fish myself, but I loved how my father knew just where to drive the boat, even after dark, seemed to know exactly which lure or bait to use depending on the situation, how he managed to cast in just the right spot along the shoreline under that bush, and how he made cleaning what to me seemed like dozens and dozens of those beautiful fish look easy, if not even a pleasant chore.

Of course, I could never seem to get enough of the lightly battered and golden pieces of meat on my plate and into my belly to satisfy myself, and though I don't often fry them now myself, my mother's way of cooking fish might still be my all time favorie.

This week for Dark Days though, I needed to try something new. Perch is a tricky fish to cook. The fillets are usually fairly small, the meat is quite tender and falls apart easily once cooked, and the flavor is delightful but quite mild and could easily be overpowered. One of my other favorite perch dishes is a casserole of sorts with rice, onion, mushrooms, tomato chunks and feta, but too many of those items I cannot find locally.

Once again, the internet came to my rescue.  Initially motivated by my Antarctic friend and fellow Dark Days cook Brittney's description of a pasta dish made with Vodka, I went on to find this tasty sounding dish with pasta and whitefish at Food 52. I didn't have the right spices for that one though, but I took the fish+pasta idea and returned to the vodka concept (hmmm... imagine that). A quick look more and I found this dish by The Pioneer Woman and then this very similar one at Smitten Kitchen. I was on to something.

Again in somewhat of a rush when it came down to actual cooking time, I failed to take many pictures along the way. However, here's what I ended up doing:

Wendy's Pasta à la Vodka con il Pesce
  1. Saute one medium onion minced until soft but not browned in about 2 Tbsp of home made butter.
  2. Add 2 cloves of crushed garlic and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes and cook another minute.
  3. Add 1/2 cup vodka, and one jar of canned tomatos, drained and cut into small pieces. Cook until slightly thickened, 10 minutes or so.
  4. Add fish which has been cut into bite sized pieces (in my case this required only cutting the fillets in half), and cook until just done, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  6. Add 1/2 c (or so) of heavy cream, and re-heat until just bubbling.
  7. Take off heat and stir in a handful of chopped herb of your choice (in my case it was actually spinich, because it was the only local green I had on hand).
  8. Serve over hand-made fresh egg-pasta; and shape will do.
How local was I? / What did I learn?
  • Making pasta with two people is much easier than doing it alone.  I'm getting faster each time I do it, but having Doug crank during the thinnest and cutting settings made things much much easier!
  • Our eggs must be smaller than "large" despite their weight.  This batch of pasta I upped my eggs to three and was actually able to incorporate all 1 1/2 cups of flour, without making the dough either overly tough or particularly sticky.  I think we got a few more noodles out of the batch too!
  • Again because of my dinner-time time crunch, I think I rushed the cooking-down stage. Were I to do this again (and I will!), I'll take the time to let the sauce thicken just a bit more.
  • The spinach was good and I would definitely do it again, but I think the addition of something like basil at the end would also have given the dish a nice finish.
  • My excpetions to the local foods were actually pretty few this time around! As usual the pasta had a spash of olive oil and salt, and the sauce had the salt and the peppers in it. I did use a vodka that I had brought home from a trip to Poland years ago and since there was so much of it still un-consumed , I couldn't justify buying more (what can I say, I'm actually a gin and tonic / gin martini kind of girl).
    • HOWEVER, to hopefully remediate this local-foods failure, I did do some research and found that I could have used a local vodka, had I so desired. On the shores of Seneca Lake, less than an hour's drive away, is Finger Lakes Distilling and amoung other spirits, they make a vodka.
    • Interestingly, over the Christmas holiday we were wine-tasting with Doug's mother in that area and drove right by the place. I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I know just where it is!
    • Even more interestingly, they sell their products at the tiny little liquor store only a couple of miles from our house. Should we ever manage to finish our current bottle of vodka, I know just what to get next.
The meal turned out great - the fish flavor carried through nicely into the sauce without overpowering the freshness of the tomato nor being overpowered by the cream. The recipe will go on the "keepers" pile.

Once again, to close the post, I 'll share a few pictures from the last week.  My apologies for the boogery little boy; I totally failed to wipe his nose before taking the picture of him and his beloved pasta.  This just goes to prove I wasn't kidding about his being sick!

The Bug finally worked up the nerve to go IN the tent instead of just stand beside it, and he LOVED it!

He didn't eat much this week, but the hand made "NooNoo" were definately enjoyed.

The other big food winner of the week was fresh bread from BobbinBobbin,
eaten of course, only directly off the loaf while sitting on the floor.
I guess come to think of it, I'm a very bad mother when it comes to germs.


  1. First, love your mothering style. My kids eat off the floor all the time. 2 second rule? How about 20 second rule, or get it before the dog does? Then I see the tent. In the SNOW. FABULOUS! Great idea. The meal, too, looks delish.

  2. Mmm that meal looks delicious. You're so lucky your dad loves to fish and shares his catch with you and your family. I'm really enjoying reading about all the great meals you've made. I need to get back on my blog and post what we've been cooking. I don't know how I've let it slip for so long. Thanks for the motivation Wendy!

  3. Thanks Kara! I'd never thought of it as a "mothering style" per se, but I like the sounds of that. It makes it seem like I'm doing this all with a purpose in mind rather than by the seat of my pants!

    Hi Brittney! Yes, I feel very fortunate to be living next to my parents for so many reasons (have you noticed how much of my food comes from their coffers?). The posting of the meals takes me a long time too; it's much more work than I thought it was going to be, and it's not helped any by how hard I find it to coherently write up what I've done!! Hopefully it will continue to get easier as I do it more. Can't wait to see what else you've come up with!


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