Summertime = pesto. No two ways about it. Summertime also = tomatoes, but as much as I adore a fresh-from-the-garden tomato, the lure of the basil plant is even stronger. Hence my annual recipe for pesto. This year, though, I decided to combine my favorite fresh herb with my favorite fish: wild salmon. (Salmon season coincides nicely with basil-growing season, so why not?) And to create a slightly different — and easier to achieve — effect, I opted to deconstruct the pesto rather than puree it.
Incidentally, as tasty as this dish is, given the anti-inflammatory properties of basil and wild salmon, this dish is an even better idea if you’re dealing with aches and pains of any sort. (Including headaches.) Most of us know about the high omega-3 content of wild salmon, but few folks know that fresh basil and mint also boast high amounts of omega-3s — much higher amounts than most other herbs, in fact. Speaking for myself, I’d rather enjoy plenty of plates of fresh summer pesto than crack open the aspirin bottle. Get that basil while the getting is good!
Salmon Pesto Pasta
This recipe serves 4, but feel free to cut it in half. Like most non-baking recipes, this is meant to spark ideas, not dictate exact amounts.
1 lb. wild salmon (figuring on 4 oz. per person)
6 cloves garlic, sliced into thin rounds
8 oz. whole-grain spaghetti (if you’re aiming for a gluten-free meal, brown rice pasta and corn pasta are great choices; I used brown rice)
Handful of pine nuts, either toasted or raw (I prefer raw, but you may prefer toasted)
Large handful of basil leaves
Drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Rinse the salmon with cold water and pat dry, then place in the skillet with the skin side up. Swish the filet around a little to make sure it’s evenly coated with the oil. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes or until the filet looks opaque about halfway up from the bottom.
While the salmon is cooking, bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions. That can be burbling along in the background while you finish the salmon. When the pasta is ready, pour into a colander, running warm water over the cooked strands and gently lifting them with your fingers to wash away the starch. Drain well, place back into the empty pot, and toss with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Back to the salmon. Carefully flip it over — use two spatulas if you like — and continue to cook, covered, for another 5 minutes or until the center of the fish flakes cleanly and is completely opaque when you twist a fork in it. Remove to a plate by sliding a spatula underneath the flesh to separate it from the skin. Gently pull the skin off of the skillet and discard.
Add another drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to the pan and sauté the garlic over medium-low heat for 3 minutes or until the thin rounds are just starting to turn golden brown. While the garlic is cooking, cut the salmon into rough chunks with a fork and toss it in with the cooked pasta. Add the sauteéd garlic, the pine nuts, and a dash or two of sea salt. Chop the basil at the last minute — it blackens quickly — and add to the pot. Toss everything well and serve immediately. Since the basil is so delicate, this dish is best eaten at once rather than kept as a leftover.
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