Saturday, July 21, 2012

ChezCindy: Summer Tilapia with Basil Pesto Pasta

I created this tilapia dish a few years ago out of the necessity to use tomatoes sitting on my counter that were becoming very ripe.  I normally don't think to pair fish with Italian-style ingredients, but this worked really well to my pleasant surprise.

To make this dish, I cut the very ripe red and yellow tomatoes into large pieces, along with red and yellow bell peppers cut into strips.  I dropped them both into a large skillet coated with olive oil.  Over a very hot fire, I cooked the tomatoes and their juices until they became almost a sauce-like consistency, and the peppers very soft.  I draped the tomato-pepper mixture over the lightly breaded tilapia and served it with basil pesto pasta.  The dish tasted like summer on a plate.  The freshness of the tomatoes and the brightness of the basil pesto worked wonderfully with the light flaky tilapia.  You could easily substitute chicken for the tilapia if you are not a fan of fish.  This is a delicious way to enjoy the flavors of summer with a quick cooking meal.

Summer Tilapia with Basil Pesto Pasta
1 pound tilapia
2 peppers (red, yellow and/or orange)
3 medium size, very ripe red tomatoes
3 medium size, very ripe yellow tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Basil Pesto
Angel hair pasta

Working in a very large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan.  Swirl pan to bring together.  Season tilapia with salt & pepper; lightly dredge in flour.  Place the flour-coated tilapia into the hot pan.  Saute for 3-4 minutes on each side.  Remove the fish from the pan, placing it onto a tray.  Place the tray in a warm oven (set at 225 degrees) to keep warm. 

Cut the tomatoes into large pieces.  Cut each pepper into strips.  Working with the same pan the tilapia was cooked in (leave the browned bits in the skillet), add the peppers and tomatoes to the pan.  You may need to add additional oil if the pan has become too dry.  Cook over high heat until the peppers soften and the tomatoes have broken down.  Add the minced garlic and continue cooking until the tomato juices have reduced and thickened, about 5-7 minutes.  Turn off the heat and set aside. 

Prepare the angel hair pasta as directed; drain.  Return the drained pasta to the pan it was cooked in.  Mix 2 tablespoons of basil pesto with the cooked pasta.  Add a drizzle of oil if necessary to loosen the pasta. 

Plating:  Place a mound of the pesto pasta onto your serving plate.  Place tilapia on top of the pasta.  Spoon a generous portion of the pepper-tomato mixture on top of the tilapia.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Basil Pesto
2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, nuts, garlic, salt & pepper by pulsing until finely chopped.  With the machine running, through the "pour-hole", slowly add the oil to yield a smooth consistency.  Transfer the basil mixture to a medium bowl.  Add the cheese and stir to combine.  The pesto should be refrigerated if not using right away. 

A few notes on basil pesto:  Traditionally basil pesto is made with pine nuts.  Pine nuts have become incredibly expensive.  I also caution on "bargain" priced pine nuts as they may not be sourced from a reliable producer and will leave a metallic flavor in the mouth.  Thus, I have begun replacing pine nuts with walnuts in most recipes.  Also, pesto is traditionally made with olive oil.

The pesto freezes well in small containers.  Add a thin layer of oil on top of the pesto to keep it from turning brown.

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