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Tuscan Salmon with Olive and Caper Greens Over Creamy Herbed Polenta

Posted Feb 01 2012 11:18pm

Well I have never beento Tuscany, but as I cook this dish and serve it with a well balanced Pinot NoirI imagine I am there cooking in a little cottage on the Tuscan countryside. Ihave always loved to read about France and Italy, and when I say read I meancookbooks of course! Rustic Mediterranean cooking is what really brought me thelove of cooking.

Most would assume thatI have been cooking in the kitchen all of my life and loving it. The reality isI used to be indifferent to cooking. I did spend a lot of time in the kitchengrowing up, both of my parents love to cook, but I never had a passion forcooking. In fact when I met my husband I told him if he wanted a woman whowould cook he’d better move on! Notice I said would and not could…My love ofcooking was really born from a deep desire to nourish my body with healthynatural ingredients coupled with a yearning to travel abroad. When I wasyounger I did not have the resources to travel, but found something special inthe pages of amazingly illustrated books about the rustic European country andsea sides. Almost all of the books that drew me in were actually cookbooks.Books with pictures depicting scenes that included a tranquil picnic set on arustic wooden table among an endless field of flowers and grapevines.  On the table: an artesian loaf of bread, anamazingly vibrant platter filled with pickled and roasted vegetables and ofcourse the pasta, glistening with extra virgin olive oil  and dotted with bright fresh green basil andred ripe tomatoes.
I knew that for me, inmy early 20s I couldn’t pick up and leave school and work to travel to such aplace, but I could make thosebeautiful dishes. That is when I started to explore the farmer’s marketdowntown at 8th and W, The Sacramento Food Coop, and way before weever saw a Whole Foods there was always Elliot’s Natural Foods, Wild OatsMarket and good old Trader Joes. I should have known that something wasdifferent about me when a basket of freshly picked fava beans could literallybring tears to my eyes. I was always on the lookout for amazing, fresh wholefoods that I could explore with. The act of cooking became my own escape fromthe crazy busy life I had. I could instantly come home from working two jobsand going to school full time and make a simple but tasty dish to satisfy mybody and my mind.

This love of creatingand transporting myself through cooking grows stronger all of the time. I trulyenjoy preparing and sharing high quality dishes. The act of eating is also veryimportant to me. I always set the table properly, use my favorite dishes andserve everything family style in serving dishes at the table. Rick and I havealways eaten meals at a table together even prior to having kids, no coucheating! We have always made it a priority to make eating a relaxing andenjoyable escape. It may be pavlovian but I could have had the craziest dayrunning in circles trying to get everything done, including getting dinner onthe table, and always the minute I sit down to eat I feel the stress of the dayescape. I hope you are able to create this kind of travel-less travel with someof the recipes I share with you!

So this salmon dish isone of my favorites, and to most people’s amazement my kids too. AND I must saynot just my kids, because they are used to eating “this way,” but our goodfriends 3 year old daughter who is known to be picky ate two servings! I useboneless, skinless salmon fillets for this recipe and always cook 1-2 morefillets than needed for dinner as they are fabulous served cold the next day ontop of a green salad for lunch! I really try to balance my meals not onlyaccording to nutritional guidelines but also for the senses. I love to pairflaky, moist and meaty salmon fillets with rich creamy polenta and top it withearthy, salty, slightly acidic greens. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as wedo! For my vegetarian and vegan friends, and especially for my veggie lovingfriends whose other half is a carnivore, this dish is for you too!  Simply make the polenta with a plant basedbutter and milk substitute and add 14oz of garbanzo beans to the greens whilebraising, adding a sprinkle of pine nuts to the top at the end will give youadded protein and a little more texture. Just have your carnivorous partnercook up their own salmon and marry the two dishes tableside atop the creamypolenta! Voila dinner for the plant and meat eater alike!

6, 4-5oz salmon fillets
½ cup of sundried tomatoes packed in oil2 cloves of garlic, chopped Basil (in the summer I use ½ cup fresh packed basil, in thenon summer months I used about ½ tablespoon dried basil.)Kosher saltBlack pepper
  1. In a food processer; add sundried tomatoes and their oil,garlic and herbs. Pulse until a paste is formed, you may need to add a drizzleof olive oil if the paste is not wet enough.
  2. Rinse and pat salmon fillets dry.
  3.  Rub salmon withkosher salt and black pepper. Please do NOT skip the salt! You can use less ifyou are watching sodium intake, but remember that salt=flavor… rub each salmonfillet with tomato mixture and refrigerate for 20-30 min.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  5. In a large oven-proof skillet add about 2 tbsp oil. Use aneutral oil with a high smoke point like grapeseed oil. Let oil get HOT. Placesalmon fillets in pan, do not over crowd the pan, use two pans if needed. Letthe salmon sear until you see the color change on the side ¼ of the way up thesalmon. Once the color has changed to light pink (the color salmon looks whencooked) pop the whole skillet in the oven. You are NOT turning the salmon overbefore you put it in the oven. Cook another 6-10 min depending on how thick thesalmon is.
  6. Remove from oven when cooked to desired doneness, place on awarm platter and tent with foil until dinner is ready!
Polenta: I always use this recipe from Giada De Laurentis firstcookbook “The Everyday Italian.” You can also find it at 6 Cups water2 Tsp salt1 ¾ Cups course cornmeal½- ¾ Cups grated Parmesan½-3/4 cups milk2-3 tbsp Unsalted butterHerbs, optional (1 table of mixed dried herbs such as herbsde Provence, or try fresh herbs like 2 tsp each of minced rosemary and thymeand 2 tbsp of chopped Italian parsley.)
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy, large saucepan.Add 2 teaspoons of salt.
  2. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low andcook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often,about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, milk, butter, parsley, rosemary,thyme, and pepper. Stir until the butter and cheese melt.
  4. Transfer the polenta to a bowl and serve.
Greens:4 cups fresh rinsed and chopped greens (I like to use greensthat keep some texture like a mix of dino kale and swiss chard, but you can usespinach too)1 large shallot, sliced into small rings2 cloves garlic, sliced1- 14 oz can chopped tomatoes2 tbsp - ¼ cup red wine vinegar10 kalmia olives, pitted and chopped10 green olives, pitted and chopped1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely choppedKosher salt Fresh ground pepper
  1. Warm 1 tbsp olive oil in large sauté skillet or pot. Addshallot and garlic and sauté until translucent and fragrant about 2 min. Do notlet them brown.
  2. Add greens to pan and stir until covered with oil.
  3. Add tomatoes and vinegar to the pan, stir to incorporateamong greens and partially cover. Cook until greens are tender about 8-10 min.If there is not enough liquid from the tomatoes just add a bit of hot waterabout ¼ to ½ a cup.
  4. Add olives and capers and cook and additional 2 min.
  5. Add kosher salt and black pepper to taste. For an added kicksprinkle a little crushed red pepper flakes in.
Assembly:Scoop one portion of polenta (about ½ cup per person) onto awarm plate, top with one salmon fillet and top salmon with ½ cup of the greens.Pour a nice glass of Pinot Noir and Enjoy!
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