Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Not Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
What’s cooking? Pasta in Cream Sauce with Smoked Salmon and Peas

I have a new neighbor this summer. Meet Mr. Crane.

By day, he’s fairly active at the construction site a block away from our apartment. Guys in hard hats go up and down the stairs that dangle inside each segment of the tower frame; then from the tiny cab at the top, they direct the hook to deliver piles of steel beams, concrete slabs, and heavy tools from the ground to the upper floors where more men in hard hats and neon safety vests move around the construction site like ants on an anthill.

At night, the construction site is empty, and the grid of the column holding Mr. Crane up disappears into the dark. But the long white arm remains, hovering eerily like a giant insect outside my window.

It’s fascinating to watch, really. In the beginning, I wondered why the movement of the working arm (the “jib”) was so slow, until I realized that if it went any faster, the stuff hanging from the hook would gain momentum and start to swing in a sort of high-stakes game of crack the whip.

I think knowing your neighbors is a good thing, so in my endless search for useless knowledge, I reached out to one of my darling nephews – a civil engineer whose projects frequently involve high-rise buildings in New York. He obliged me with a treasure trove of crane arcana, and even though you didn’t tune in here to learn about cranes, this stuff is too good not to share.

In addition to sending this diagram, he said, “The type of crane you are talking about is a Tower Crane. We use them here in NYC on nearly all of our jobs. The counterweights are usually steel plates, not concrete as in the label in this image.”

And then he threw in a few other fun facts about Tower Cranes:

■ Tower Crane Operators are almost always the highest paid workers on a construction site.
■ Nobody really buys the cranes. They rent them – at incredible prices – from crane companies. Tall, powerful cranes can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, so they are removed as soon as they are no longer absolutely necessary.
■ Tower cranes are on site to bring the structure of the building right to the top, then “pick” (the term for lifting something on the hook) the roof-top mechanical units to the roof.  After that, they usually get taken down.
■ On really tall buildings, a crane needs to “jump” (to be jacked up to raise its height) as the height of the building goes up. (The crane always needs to stay above the height of the building.) Jumping involves adding sections of mast; the cab and jib climb up the sections one by one as the height of the crane increases during the jump. The initial section of the crane can be up to about 200 feet; any building higher than that will have to jump, often in many stages. This also requires the tower of the crane to be braced back to the structure of the building for stability (again, many times at multiple elevations).

■ For the really tall buildings, rather than climb the stairs inside the mast, the operators go up to the level of the highest brace (within the building) and walk along the brace (or bridge) to the mast of the crane and climb from there.
■ The biggest and best cranes are nearly all made in Germany.
■ The New York Wheel project – a giant Ferris wheel now being built on Staten Island – will bring in the second most powerful crane in the world, from Dubai, on a barge. It will make a total of five “picks” before it’s disassembled and shipped back. The rest of the Ferris wheel will be built with smaller, cheaper cranes.
■ On windy days, construction crews are not allowed to use cranes in NYC.

Here endeth the lesson. But it’s good to learn something every day, don’t you think?

So while I’ve been spending my days watching Mr. Crane, I haven’t wanted to spend a lot of time working on dinner. Luckily for me and the hubby, one of the things I brought up from Texas was a package of smoked salmon. It was a Christmas gift from my sweet brother-in-law and his wife, and I hadn’t gotten around to using it in Texas, so I tossed it into my suitcase for our migration north. (And I would like to take just a moment here to say that I believe I hit the lottery in the in-laws category, and not just because they send us smoked salmon.)

Smoked salmon is one of those wonderful foods that keep forever. I once called a company that sells the stuff and asked how long I could hang onto some, and the guy said, “Oh, about 10 years.” Which makes it one of those foods you should always have around.

What can you do with smoked salmon, you ask? Consider:

1. Stir some into your scrambled eggs for breakfast. Top with a little sour cream or creme fraiche, and maybe some chives or fresh dill.
2. Put it in a food processor with some shallots, creme fraiche/sour cream, lemon juice and lemon zest, then stir in chives and serve on rye toasts/crackers or bagels.
3. Eat it as is on crackers or crostini, with a dab of cream cheese or creme fraiche/sour cream, a squirt of lemon juice, and capers.
4. Serve as canapes: toasted pumpernickel rounds with mashed avocado (add some lemon juice) and topped with a piece of the salmon and a sprinkling of fresh dill. Or spread some soft cream cheese on crostini, add a sliver of avocado, a piece of salmon, and a few drops of lemon.
5. Or serve it, as the Kitchen Goddess did, in a cream sauce with pasta. Here you go...

Pasta in Cream Sauce with Smoked Salmon and Peas

Serves 2-3.

8 ounces pasta, such as penne or fettuccini or farfalle (bow-tie)
1½-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 cup fresh peas (can use frozen peas, thawed, or fresh asparagus, cut in 2-inch lengths and parboiled for 1 minute)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Kitchen Goddess note: Smoked salmon is salty, so go easy on the salt in the pasta water, and be sure to taste the sauce before adding more salt. Black pepper adds a nice flavor to this dish; use freshly ground. And if you are tempted to sprinkle a little Parmigiano-Reggiano on the finished dish, resist that temptation, as there’s even more salt in that cheese.

Start cooking the pasta before you start the sauce, as the sauce takes almost no time at all. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water in case the sauce is too thick. Cook pasta only until al dente.

In a large skillet with sides, heat the oil and add the onion. Sauté on medium-low until the onion is good and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and heat to a simmer. Add the salmon, the lemon juice, dill, and capers, and return the mix to a bare simmer.

Stir in the pasta, and when the mixture is well combined, stir in the peas and continue to heat until the peas are as done as you’d like them to be. (This won’t take but a couple of minutes – that’s 1-2 – especially if, like the Kitchen Goddess, you like your peas also a bit al dente.) If the sauce seems too thick, add some pasta water, a little at a time, to get to the consistency you want. Stir in a couple of good grinds of black pepper.

Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

And if you come across a tower crane in your neighborhood, be sure to say hello!

No comments:

Post a Comment