salmon pesto pasta


This is Dave’s most-requested meal, and it’s gotten to the point where I purposefully don’t make it so that it will always be a treat. Yeah, I’m a bad wife. Also, I think making pesto is sort of a pain in this ass. Back in the old days, before I took over the kitchen and we actually cooked together on occasion, Dave would prepare the fish while I worked on the pesto. Over time, I tweaked the recipe here and there without writing it down, and it became easier to just do it myself. And now I complain that Dave doesn’t like to cook with me…

Updated photo 5/27

I’ve found that if I allow my life to be easy and just buy pesto, this recipe is actually a quick weeknight-appropriate meal. We’re picky about pesto, but I’ve found that my grocery store stocks some good stuff in their olive bar. But…this was for Dave’s birthday, so I went all out and made it from scratch.

(Wait a minute…wasn’t Dave’s birthday last month? Yes yes, the problem is, I didn’t like the picture I took of the final dish, so I wanted to make it again and hope for a better picture. I made it again last weekend, but the pictures from that night aren’t any better, so I’m sticking with the original. Sorry the colors are all funky. We eat dinner at night. There’s no natural light at night. My pictures of dinner tend be funky colors.)

I am, of course, a big fan of my homemade pesto. My trick (okay, Cooks Illustrated’s trick that I stole) is to squeeze the maximum amount of flavor out of each ingredient. I toast the pine nuts, I toast the garlic so that it loses that sharpness that raw garlic has, and I bruise the basil leaves. Before I did all this, I would often end up with grassy-smelling pesto, but now I make basily-smelling pesto. Gotta love that.

garlic.jpg pine-nuts.jpg

basil.jpg process.jpg

The salmon, brushed with oil and sprinkled with lemon zest, is broiled. The sauce is made from evaporated milk that’s boiled to reduce it even further. The pasta is mixed with the milk, then the salmon, and finally, off the heat to preserve the basil’s delicate flavor (Marcella Hazan is getting to me), the pesto is stirred in. Top with a little more parmesan, and you’ve got my and Dave’s favorite way to eat salmon. And Dave’s favorite way to eat pesto…and pasta…

raw-salmon.jpg copy-of-cooked-salmon.jpg

Salmon Pesto Pasta (substantially adapted from the Pillsbury Complete Cookbook)

Serves 2

8 ounces pasta
12 ounces salmon
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
5 ounces evaporated milk
½ cup pesto (recipe follows)
grated parmesan, for serving

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; stir to separate pasta. Cook pasta until al dente; drain. Pour evaporated milk into empty pot and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup. Add cooked pasta to pot and stir to combine.

2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Season skinless side of salmon liberally with salt and pepper, sprinkle with zest, then rub with olive oil. Broil until salmon is no longer translucent and is firm when pressed, about 10 minutes. Remove from broiler and sprinkle with lemon juice. Use fork to flake into bite-sized pieces. Skin will stick to foil and can be discarded.

3. Add salmon to pasta mixture and stir over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Top with parmesan.

Pesto (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Bridget note: I haven’t found a good way to measure basil leaves by volume. I just add all of the leaves from a hydroponic basil plant or a large herb container from the grocery store.

CI note: Basil usually darkens in homemade pesto, but you can boost the green color a little by adding the optional parsley.

Update 6/18/08 – After flipping through Jamie’s Dinners, I have found a far easier and just as effective method for bruising the basil leaves.  Simply add the unbruised basil leaves to the food processor bowl and process with the plastic dough hook until they’re thoroughly bruised.  Switch back to the blade and continue with the recipe as written.

Makes ½ cup

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (or substitute almonds or walnuts)
5 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed thoroughly
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, Italian (optional)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch table salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Toast nuts in small heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.

2. Add the unpeeled garlic to empty skillet and toast until, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool, then peel and add to food processor bowl.

3. Place basil and parsley in heavy-duty, quart-size, zipper-lock bag; pound with flat side of meat pounder until all leaves are bruised.

4. Process nuts and garlic until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients except cheese; process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down bowl with flexible spatula.

5. Transfer mixture to small bowl, stir in cheese(s) and adjust salt. (Can be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly over the surface or filmed with oil and refrigerated up to 5 days.)


  1. annmarsh says:

    This looks absolutely delicious! And, like a great way to get my DH to eat a little more fish 🙂 I’ll have to wait till summer when my herb garden can provide the basil rather than the grocery store, but I’m definitely trying this.

  2. No wonder it’s his most-requested meal. This looks so amazingly good! The picture made me drool the minute I opened the page!

  3. sidfaiwu says:

    Damn, that sounds good. Since Jess and I love garlic so much, I might not have roasted it. One question, though, how does one ‘bruise’ leaves?

  4. bridget says:

    Sid, you’ve had this! We had it when we camped in the Allegheny (I think). It’s still garlicky. It just tastes more like how garlic smells, and not so acrid. You bruise the basil leaves by putting them in a ziploc bag and hitting them a meat pounder (or the bottom of a skillet).

    For Jess, I think the best way to get a bit of creaminess into the dish without using real milk would be to mix some soy milk into the pesto before adding it to the pasta and salmon. Apparently soy milk curdles if you boil it. You could leave it out entirely, but I like a bit of creaminess in this dish.

  5. The evaporated milk is a new one to me. It does look delicious.

  6. sidfaiwu says:

    “Sid, you’ve had this!” Well, I’ve never had a Bridget dish I didn’t love, so it was excellent 🙂

  7. bridget says:

    Melinda – The original recipe called for heavy cream, and I’ve always used evaporated milk to make it a bit healthier. If you can’t find evaporated milk where you live, by all means use cream. You’ll probably want to use a bit less and reduce it less, because cream is thicker than evaporated milk.

  8. I made this for my family tonight and it was delicious. You have an awesome food blog and have inspired me to cook more! Thanks!

  9. This looks ABSOLUTELY yummy!

  10. If I start eating fish, I’ll definitely try this recipe out. My Omnivore would LOVE this dish.

  11. Nicole says:

    This looks delicious! I just have to wait until my husband (who doesn’t like salmon, or pesto, or PASTA! [freak!]) is out of town. 🙂

  12. My husband and I just discovered the amazingness of Pesto and now are looking for more creative ways to eat it… I am going to try this tonight !

  13. journey says:

    i have made this recipe twice in the past 2 weeks. my husband and i LOVE it. i had to double the recipe because the first time we were arguing over who would get the leftovers. it is so good. i also used prepared pesto, but since i know we love it i may try to make my own.

  14. Thank you , I’ll have to subscribe your feed and read the rest I think. The first date my wife and I had nearly 20 years ago now was a lovely seafood restaurant in Napoli, so I’ve been spending ages trying to rediscover a decent grilled lobster recipe like we had that night – our anniversary is next month so I’m hoping to surprise her!

  15. This was absolutely delicious! Thanks for sharing!

  16. Really good looking recipe here and a really nice blog to come across!

  17. Ferd Berfle says:

    Parmigiano on fish? Like any Italian, Marcella would never, ever put cheese on a fish dish, even one that’s mostly pasta. Schifoso. Having said that, I’m going to give the rest of the recipe a try!


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