Salmon with Pesto Crust

Pesto-encrusted Salmon, with asparagus and mushrooms

According to Marcella Hazan, noted author of many books on classic Italian cuisine, pesto is the sauce invented by the Genoese as a vehicle for the fragrance of basil, and it has just ONE role – “to be the most seductive of all sauces for pasta”.  Does that mean that primal eaters have to forsake pesto forever, having no pasta to accompany it?  Of course not!  There are many foods that pesto is great on; scrambled eggs, chicken, salmon and some vegetables come to mind.  Although these aren’t the classic applications for pesto, they are an easy way to incorporate the wonderful flavor of basil into your meals all year long.

I made this pesto from basil grown in our yard, and kept it frozen in a log in the freezer.  If you plan on freezing your pesto, you should use less olive oil than usual so that it can be rolled into the log shape.  When I need some pesto, I just slice off what I need, thaw it, and reconstitute with a little olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The recipe I use for pesto is based on Marcella Hazan’s classic recipe, in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. However, I am a big fan of using different types of nuts in pesto, especially walnuts or cashews.  Lightly toasting the nuts before processing will also add flavor to your pesto – although some people prefer the taste of raw nuts.  Try it both ways to see the difference!

If you don’t want to make your own pesto, there usually is a good variety at the grocery store.  Sometimes you can find fresh pesto in the refrigerated section…look for local or grocery brands and not the stuff from big manufacturers.  Fresh would be preferable to jarred pesto, which is often too salty, rancid, or filled with preservatives (although there are good ones out there).  This one is good, and available on-line.  Whatever you do, do not make “pesto” from anything that comes in a packet! That does not even qualify as food!

Here is the original recipe:

Pesto (Marcella Hazan, from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)

  • 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before putting in the processor
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated romano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
  1. Briefly soak and wash the basil in cold water, and gently pat it thoroughly dry with paper towels (Note: this part is tedious, but it is important to get all the water off the leaves).
  2. Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and an ample pinch of salt in the processor bowl, and process to a uniform, creamy consistency.
  3. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the two grated cheeses by hand.  When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients, mix in the softened butter, distributing it uniformly into the sauce.

Fresh pesto will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.  Cover the surface with a layer of olive oil, and keep in an air-tight container.  Contact with air will cause the pesto to lose its bright color.

If freezing, do not add cheese and butter to the pesto.  Add cheese and butter when it is thawed, just before using.  Wrap well with plastic wrap and place inside a freezer bag.

Recipe for Salmon with Pesto Crust

  • Salmon fillets (approximately 8 ounces each)
  • Pesto sauce

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line shallow roasting pan with foil; lightly oil surface of foil.  Place salmon filets in roasting pan.

Taste pesto and adjust seasoning if necessary.  (Now stop tasting the pesto or you won’t have enough for the salmon!)

Spread a layer of pesto over the top of the salmon fillet.  Place the roasting pan in the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes until just cooked through (or less time if you like your salmon medium-rare).


Delicious! As is the new release from house favorite John Renbourn, Palermo Snow. This guy just keeps getting better. Fans of Pentangle, Oregon and David Grisman will love this, it’s tasty.

Just like the pesto!



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