Cheers with Chilled Smoked Salmon Spaghetti with Capers and Avocado

A smoked salmon-avocado pasta with a glass of bubbly -- the makings for one fabulous dinner.
A smoked salmon-avocado pasta with a glass of bubbly — the makings for one fabulous dinner.

Smoked salmon, capers, avocado, and a squeeze of lemon.

That’s the mouth-watering makings for my favorite bagel topping. That’s also what stars in this easy and terrific cold pasta dish.

“Chilled Smoked Salmon Spaghetti with Capers and Avocado” is from the new cookbook, “Wine Style: Discover the Wines You Will Love Through 50 Simple Recipes” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, by San Francisco food writer Kate Leahy.

Leahy is the co-author of cookbooks by San Francisco restaurants, A16: Food + Wine,” “SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine,” and “Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes from the Crossroads of Southeast Asia,” plus so many more. But surprisingly, this is her first cookbook that’s all her own.

Pairing food and wine can easily intimidate and befuddle. But Leahy makes it easily approachable. She doesn’t inundate with too much nitty-gritty that would make most casual wine drinkers’ heads spin. Instead, after a short primer on wine basics (textures and flavor categories), she dives into the heart of the book, which comprises nine categories of wine, along with specific recipes that marry well with each.

For instance, in the chapter on “Rich White Wines,” you’ll learn about Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier, and a handful of Italian white wines, all of which are “rich enough to coat your mouth a bit, allowing them to complement creamy sauces and richer dishes in a balanced, even-handed way.” That is why “Oil-Packed Tuna with Potatoes, Olives, and Lemon” goes smashingly well with Albarino or Chardonnay.

Because this balmy weather had me itching to open a sample bottle of Handley Cellars 2016 Brut Rosé ($52), I went straight to the chapter on “Sparkling Wines.”

There, I found the ideal recipe in the chilled smoked salmon spaghetti dish. It’s a recipe easy enough to whip up on a weeknight, because why not indulge in some bubbles then?

Handley Cellars 2016 Brut  Rosé.
Handley Cellars 2016 Brut Rosé.

Boil the spaghetti, then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and chill down the noodles. Then, dress them with a simple mix of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, honey, and green onions and capers that are sauteed quickly in plenty of olive oil.

Pile the noodles into serving bowls, then top with slices of smoked salmon, just-cut avocado, and fresh herbs such as parsley. And pour yourself some sparkling wine. It’s a meal that feels special even when you’ve barely lifted a finger.

The lightly dressed noodles don’t necessarily taste Asian, despite the soy sauce. Instead, it just gives an added depth of umami to go with all that rich, silky, and smoky salmon plus the buttery avocado. The capers add pops of brininess and the herbs a bright freshness to everything.

This book will open your eyes to pairing wines with food.
This book will open your eyes to pairing wines with food.

The palest blush-salmon in color, the Philo, CA Handley Brut Rosé is crisp, toasty, and yeasty with gentle hints of strawberries, raspberries and lemon.

Because it’s a rosé, it’s less stark and more rounded in flavor, rolling off the tongue more languidly to stand up to the fattiness that lingers from the salmon. At the same time, the effervescence cleanses the palate of that richness, readying it for the next welcome forkful of pasta.

Soba would also be a fun substitute for the spaghetti in this dish.

Leahy was inspired to create this dish from her former days as a line cook at the revered and now-shuttered Terra in St. Helena. The original dish actually used capellini, and was finished with a big dollop of caviar.

That posh version can be found in the cookbook, “Terra: Cooking from the Heart of Napa Valley” (Ten Speed Press) by chefs and husband-and wife, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani.

It’s a version worth drinking to, as well.

A blissful bite.
A blissful bite.

Chilled Smoked Salmon Spaghetti with Capers and Avocado

(Serves 2 to 4)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped

4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced crosswise

2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, plus 1 lemon wedge

2 teaspoons honey

3 to 6 ounces sliced cold-smoked salmon (see Note)

1 avocado, slightly on the firm side

Kosher salt

12 ounces spaghetti (see Note)

Herb sprigs (such as dill, parsley, or chervil) for garnish

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Add the capers and green onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to soften, no more than 1 minute. Pour the contents of the pan into a small heatproof bowl and let sit for a few minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, and honey. Set the vinaigrette aside.

Cut the salmon into 1/2-inch slices, trimming away any gray or brown bits. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, and dice the flesh. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the pieces to prevent browning.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and have a large bowl of ice water ready. Add the spaghetti to the pot and cook according to the package instructions until slightly past al dente. Drain the spaghetti and plunge it into the ice water, using your hands to mix the strands and ensure they get evenly chilled. Drain again and press to squeeze out any excess water.

Put the spaghetti in a serving bowl and stir in the vinaigrette to evenly coat. Gently mix in the avocado and lay the salmon on top. Sprinkle herb sprigs over the top and serve.

Note: For a lighter dish, use 3 ounces of salmon. For a more substantial main meal, I recommend 6 ounces. I use cold-smoked salmon. Hot-smoked salmon has a different texture; if using, flake into bite-sized pieces.

Cluten-free rice noodles from brands such as Jovial also work well in this dish.

From “Wine Style” by Kate Leahy

More Recipes from Kate Leahy Cookbooks: Armenian Pizza

And: Burma Superstar’s Chicken with Mint

And: Corn Nut Cornmeal Shortbread

And: SPQR’s Smoked Linguine with Clams, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil Pesto

And: A16’s Neapolitan-Style Pizza

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