Substitutions Encouraged

I am on a “use it up” theme these days, but honestly, this way of cooking is what makes me the most satisfied, in general.  I really get a thrill out of surveying what I have in the freezer, pantry, and refrigerator and then putting together something, hopefully, wonderful without making a run to the store or market.

Today is Tunisian Labor Day so I’ve got a little time at home, mid-week.  I am pulling long-horded foods out to the kitchen island so they are in my working notice.  I’ve still got several artistic pastas from two trips to Italy in the past 5 months, and I’ve got this vaccuum-packed wild, smoked salmon filet that was backpack transported by my sons, at Christmas.


Thinking of a preparation, I could mentally taste a light white sauce.  I didn’t want something as heavy as true bechamel sauce and nothing overly cheesy.  I think this combination could turn into tuna noodle casserole if I’m not careful.  My go-to Italian cookbook, Made in Italy Food and Stories, by Georgio Locatelli has a white sauce for fish and pasta.  It is made with warm milk, not cream, and thickened with pureed potatoes instead of roux.

Riced Potatoes

At the end, you drop in cubes of a premade and chilled greens/butter.  He is recommending basil, but you can vary the greens depending on the meat or main vegetable you choose to use.  How about mustard butter with beef or swiss chard butter with chicken?  This is the beauty of this dish:  any pasta + any main meat or vegetable + any greens/butter will = a great, light(ish) pasta dish.

Chipped Herbs

Cubed Butter w:Herbs

Herb Butter


  • 2 large bunches of basil or any combination of greens
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large or 3 medium  potatoes, peeled
  • 500 ml milk
  • 200g meat or main vegetable
  • 500g pasta
  • Salt and pepper

Put the greens in a food processor and chip them, then add the butter and process to a bright green paste.  Spoon into a container and leave in the fridge until you need it.

Put the whole peeled potatoes in a pan of cold salted water.  Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer and cook until soft.

When the potatoes are nearly cooked, warm up the milk in a pan.  Don’t let it boil; just heat it through, so that it won’t bring down the temperature of the potatoes when you add it to them.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, but while still hot, put through a fine sieve.  Add the milk and season.  Keep in a warm place.

Meanwhile, cook the main meat or vegetable using your preferred method.  You could pan fry, grill, bake or saute.

Cook the pasta until al dente.

Put the potato puree back on the heat and whisk in the greens butter by spoonsful.  Finally,  season with salt and pepper.

Toss the pasta into the sauce to coat.

Serve the pasta, topped with the meat or main vegetable.  Finely grate parmigiano reggiano to taste.

For Northwesterners, the wood-smokey salmon, combined with the potato-cream sauce, was reminiscent of salmon chowder, but more refined.  It was a nice touch of home for a rainy day off in Tunis.



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