Hot Weather Orecchiette-Salmon Salad

It’s 1,000 degrees in Philadelphia right now. Okay, maybe it’s not that hot, but it sure has felt like it recently. Usually the mid-Atlantic summer heat and humidity don’t really hit until late June or July, but this year both have arrived early, making late spring quite uncomfortable.

For some reason, it also always seems the way of the universe that I am busy with several baking projects on the hottest days of the year. This was the case a couple of weeks ago, when I had several gigs on the calendar. To make matters even worse, our air conditioners were on the blink, and we had to make do with fans. I really almost lost it a couple of times, trying to coat and decorate a 12-inch, 4-layer cake with Italian buttercream that was transforming in a matter of minutes from gorgeously glossy and smooth to virtually runny. I would definitely not recommend trying to frost cutout sugar cookies with royal icing in this kind of heat, either. The baked cookies get soft, and the icing takes forever to firm up. As an aside (but totally worth venting about here), black food coloring paste is a nightmare in virtually any weather. Black-colored royal icing takes forever to get hard and sometimes doesn’t at all. I really needed to go to confession after that project.

Baking challenges aside, what I really wanted to write about here is dinner. Although I couldn’t have cared less about eating during those overheated days in the kitchen, I still had to come up with something yummy and satisfying for my husband and 15-month-old daughter. The meal needed to be easy, quick, and totally anxiety free. With a gigantic cake taking up most of the space in my refrigerator and what felt like a zillion cookies drying on the counters, I couldn’t be bothered to defrost chicken or even burgers. Needless to say, the mere thought of turning on the oven or stove was also more than I could bear.

So, this was my solution. A bit of leftover grilled salmon (or even good quality canned salmon), some orecchiette pasta, ricotta cheese, milk, fresh basil, and salt and pepper combined deliciously to make my heat-weary family happy. I keep disc-shaped orecchiette (“little ears”) on hand, because they are so versatile, taking to a variety of sauces. They are also just the right size for grown-ups and kids alike. The salty, rich salmon pairs beautifully with the creamy ricotta, thinned just a bit with milk. And I happen to keep a pot of fresh basil on my kitchen windowsill, so it was an easy herbaceous addition. I think the fresh pungency of this particular herb complements and heightens the fairly subtle flavors of the other ingredients, too.

The recipe for this salad makes enough for three as a first course or light lunch or dinner, or for two generous servings. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for at least three days. To make it, simply cook 4- to 6-ounces of pasta until al dente, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with about 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese, a couple of tablespoons of milk (just enough to thin it out a bit),1 to 2 tablespoons of reserved cooking water, 6- to 8-ounces of cooked salmon, about a tablespoon of chopped basil, and salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature or, for when the air conditioning is out, chill the salad for a time in the refrigerator.

Here’s to summer. Eat well and stay cool.

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