by Danielle Mahoney
Director of Staff Development
Ever since my children could stand, they’ve been next to me at the stove as I cooked. When they were very young, they would join me at the cutting board and put their hands on mine as they “helped” me slice, dice, and chop. I’m a firm believer that the more opportunities children have to help in the kitchen, the less picky of eaters they will be and the healthier attitudes they will have about food and about themselves.
I wanted my daughters to be adventurous eaters, so I liked to introduce new foods and make sure they always tried everything. As they got a little older, they would express their likes and dislikes, which was also something I encouraged.
One day when my oldest was two or three, she came in from playing and asked what we were having for dinner. I told her we were having Basil Pesto Salmon, and she told me, “I don’t like salmon.” I knew that she had eaten salmon many times and had always enjoyed it, but I didn’t say anything. She went off to play some more, and her young memory forgot the interaction.
When we sat down to dinner that night, I thought I would try to fool her into eating, so when she asked what was on her plate I said, “Pink chicken.” Pink was her favorite color at the time, so it worked out well that the salmon was a sort of pink color. She ate every bite and said it was her favorite dinner and thanked me so much for making it. For years we continued to call salmon “pink chicken,” and even when she was old enough to know the difference, we continued the nickname. To this day, Basil Pesto Salmon is one of her favorite meals to eat and to cook herself. It’s super easy, nutritious, and delicious, and a great way for kids to flex their cooking skills.
To turn this dish into an extra-fancy affair, serve it as bite-size hors d’oeuvres on an appetizer buffet! And if you’re short on time, just buy some quality pesto instead of making your own.
Basil Pesto Salmon
- 4 salmon fillets, 5 oz each
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese
- Place salmon in lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper and allow to marinate while you prepare the pesto. (See Pesto recipe below.)
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Place 4 piles of parmesan (about 2 Tbsp in each pile) on a baking sheet, gently pat down to form into approx. 3-inch circles. Bake 4-5 min. until cheese starts to bubble and turn golden. Remove from heat and allow to cool and become crisp.
- Remove salmon from marinade, generously coated.
- Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in sauté pan over med heat. When oil is hot, carefully place salmon in pan, and cook 4 min. Turn salmon over and coat with heaping Tbsp of pesto sauce. Cook additional 2-3 min. just until the fish flakes with fork.
- Serve topped with cheese crisp.
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I like to substitute ½ cup fresh spinach leaves for half of the basil. It’s a great way to sneak in some greens)
- 3 Tbsp pine nuts
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a food processor or high-powered blender, place the spinach, basil, and pine nuts. Pulse a few times to chop roughly.
- Add the cheese and garlic, and pulse several more times to combine.
- While blending, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream to keep the mixture emulsified.
- Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides so all the ingredients are incorporated.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Consistency should be similar to mashed potatoes with small, uniform chunks.