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Sicilian baked salmon is a healthy, warm and comforting option for an easy weeknight dinner

This week Sarah Nasello modifies a summer favorite into a warm and comforting winter meal.

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Sarah's Sicilian Baked Salmon is an easy, delicious and versatile weeknight dish featuring staples from her pantry, including capers, anchovy, onion, tomato and herbs.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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FARGO — One of my resolutions for this new year is to utilize the items in my pantry as inspiration for new recipes, and the process has been more enjoyable than I expected. This easy Sicilian Baked Salmon is a pantry update from a recipe I usually make in the summertime, and it is the perfect dish to round out my January healthy recipe series.

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A whole salmon fillet is lightly seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper before the Sicilian topping is added.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

My pantry includes several staples from Sicilian cuisine, and this dish features some of my favorites, including capers, anchovies, garlic, onion, crushed red pepper flakes, tomatoes and herbs. I first developed this recipe a few summers ago when my son requested a salmon dish with fresh tomatoes and herbs from our garden. The dish was an instant success and has become a favorite for us in the summer months.

When my son recently mentioned craving our Sicilian baked salmon, I endeavored to create a version that could match the season. I already had a side of salmon in my freezer, but none of the fresh ingredients from our garden were available, so I used canned tomatoes and dried herbs from my pantry instead.

The result was just as delicious as the original dish. The taste of each version is nearly the same, but where the flavor profile of the summer dish is light and bright, the winter version is warm and comforting.

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A paste is made by mashing an anchovy with capers to infuse the sauce with their savory, briny flavor.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

This seasonal update was a fun and successful experiment, and the process is the same for both versions of this recipe. The capers and anchovy are mashed together until a paste forms, and then sautéed with grated onion, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes until well combined and fragrant. Grating the onion makes it almost melt into the sauce so that only the flavor remains, and you could also use finely chopped onion if you prefer.

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Once the aromatics are ready, I add the tomatoes and let them cook over medium heat until they soften. The final ingredients are the dried herbs, lemon juice and a cup of chicken stock, and you can also use vegetable stock or just water.

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Grated onion and minced garlic are used to provide aromatic flavor to the Sicilian sauce. Grating the onion allows it to melt into the sauce so that only its flavor remains.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

I bring the sauce to a boil and then let it simmer over low heat for a few minutes to allow the flavors to meld together before pouring it over the salmon. The capers and anchovy are naturally salty, so be sure to taste the sauce before adding any additional seasoning. I bake the salmon until it is fully cooked and opaque inside, which takes about 18 to 20 minutes. The liquid becomes infused with flavor and helps keep the salmon moist as it bakes.

The light and brothy sauce pairs beautifully with pasta, and I love to serve this dish atop a bed of long noodles, like spaghetti or linguini. Versatile and nutritious, this Sicilian baked salmon can be adjusted to match the season for an easy and delicious weeknight dinner.

Sicilian Baked Salmon

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
2 to 2.5 pounds whole salmon fillet, skinless
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon capers
1 anchovy
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup yellow onion, grated or very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes or 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes (quartered)
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon dried oregano or 1 sprig fresh oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil or 1 sprig fresh basil

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 casserole dish with oil.

Rinse the side of salmon under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the salmon in the casserole dish and sprinkle the top with kosher salt and black pepper.

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Use a mortar and pestle, or a wooden spoon and a small bowl, to mash the capers and anchovy together until well combined and a paste forms; set aside.

In a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the grated onion and cook on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the edges just start to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and crushed red peppers. Continue to cook over medium-low, stirring often, until fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the mashed caper/anchovy mixture and cook over medium low heat for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the diced tomatoes and increase to medium heat. Stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken stock and lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low and add the thyme and basil. Simmer gently over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and discard the herb sprigs, if using fresh herbs.

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A savory Sicilian tomato sauce is poured over the side of salmon before baking.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Pour the mixture over the side of salmon and bake in the center of the oven, until the salmon is fully cooked and opaque on the inside, about 18 to 20 minutes. You can insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the salmon to ensure that it has an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees.

Remove the salmon from the oven and divide it into individual portions. Serve over long pasta noodles (like spaghetti or linguini) or your favorite grain (rice, quinoa, farro, barley).

To store: the tomato topping can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and added just before baking. Leftovers can be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days.

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More recipes from Sarah Nasello
Each of the vegetables in this recipe has a natural sweetness that is complemented by a healthy dose of fresh garlic for a side dish that can be paired with any variety of main courses.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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Related Topics: FOODRECIPESHOME AND GARDEN
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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