Baked Pesto salmon with gemelli pasta is an easy dinner that's also delicious served cold for lunch the next day.
This recipe for salmon with gemelli pasta combines three ingredients my family loves - pesto, salmon and pasta - into one easy dinner.
What Makes This Recipe Flavorful & Easy?
- Pesto is swirled into mayonnaise to create an easy, creamy dressing
- The pesto mayonnaise dresses the pasta AND is brushed on the salmon for an extra boost of flavor and moisture as it cooks.
- This pasta is great served cold. You can make it earlier in the day and just pull dinner out of the fridge in the evening, or truly enjoy leftovers the next day.
(And just so you know, pesto mayonnaise is delish spread on a sandwich for lunch!)
What is Gemelli Pasta?
Gemelli pasta is a noodle shaped like a thin, short twist. The braided texture helps sauce, like pesto, cling to the noodles.
Any type of noodle shape will do in this recipe, although twisty gemelli is a fun one to try. I bought the gemelli pasta I used at Costco. It's the Garofalo organic gemelli.
How to Cook Gemelli Pasta
Cook gemelli pasta in boiling, salted water like any other type of pasta. The cooking time depends on the brand, but is often around 12 minutes.
The pesto mayo in this recipe is very straightforward and easy - just mix together homemade or store-bought pesto and mayonnaise.
For other recipes, pesto mayonnaise can be made by blending fresh basil leaves, garlic, mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon juice in a food processor.
Two easy pesto recipes to try at home:
Baked Pesto Salmon
Pesto gives salmon (and other types of fish) rich, garlicky flavor. I usually wait to add a dollop of pesto until the fish is fully cooked, because pesto tends to dry out in the oven and doesn't fully melt into baked salmon. However....
Mayonnaise is a secret ingredient that keeps food moist and tender, thanks to its two main ingredients oil and eggs. That's why it's even added to recipes like Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake.
Spreading mayonnaise on fish before it bakes is a trick I learned from a helpful guy behind the fish counter at the grocery store. Mayo is mostly fat, which keeps the fish moist and also helps herbs, spices and other flavors soak into the fish. Martha Stewart's recipe for Baked Tilapia with Fresh Herbs uses a thin coating of mayo in exactly this way.
I like to combine mayo with pesto, and voila! You get moist, flavorful and perfectly delicious baked pesto salmon.
Other ways you can use mayonnaise for cooking:
- When grilling fish (or chicken), try spreading a light layer of mayo on each side to keep the fish from sticking to the grill.
- Mayo works as well - or better - than oil or butter when browning something in a skillet, whether it's meat, fish or a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Mayo adds fat and flavor to marinades, and will help meat brown nicely when cooked. This chicken marinade with mayo, mustard and garlic is a good one.
- Mayo can prevent sugars in marinades (like honey) from burning on the grill
How to Tell When Salmon is Done
As a general rule, when baking or grilling, cook salmon 10 minutes per 1-inch of salmon, measured by the thickest part of the fillet. To be safe, start checking the salmon after 8 minutes, but don't be surprised if the salmon takes closer to 12 minutes to fully cook (larger, whole fillets will take longer than smaller separate fillets).
When salmon is done, it should flake apart or separate easily with a fork. This is the best indicator that salmon is done.
Cooked salmon should not be raw and translucent in the middle, but if the middle is very light pink and semi-translucent it's a good time to take the salmon out of the oven.
Overcooked salmon is very firm to the touch, dry, and often has a white coating of albumin on it. Albumin is a protein in salmon that comes to the surface as the salmon it cooks.
The higher the heat used to cook salmon, the more likely it is that albumin will appear, especially if the salmon is overcooked. So, cooking salmon at a lower heat (below 400 F) makes it less likely that albumin will appear, but most importantly, don’t overcook the salmon.
More Recipes for Pesto Lovers
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