Tilapia with Arugula Walnut Pesto and Lemon – seafood simplicity

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(Tilapia with arugula walnut pesto and lemon – recipe in post)

For the past week or so I’ve managed to eat fish (or seafood of some form) almost every day. Sure, sometimes that means a can of tuna or some lox, but considering that wasn’t really my goal I still think it’s impressive.
As far as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of seafood.  I’m a big lover of the raw (sushi), have always liked the fried (fish and chips), and recall going through a phase where I thought shrimp was the end-all be-all of fancy food. When I was little I even used to go up to Lake Michigan to catch bluegill and pan fry them for breakfast each morning. So great to have that prideful feeling of having caught and cleaned my own meal at such a young age.

Besides my own personal enjoyment, seafood is (generally speaking) very healthy. Fish is packed full of complete protein, not to mention tons of vitamins and minerals. It’s very lean, and the fat it does have is some of the healthiest around, with lots of omega fatty acids our bodies and brains need to function. In fact, research has shown that people’s whose diets are rich in fish and seafood have a much lower risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and possibly even some cancers. Yay, fish!

Alright, alright, so there are some risks involved… these days we have to worry about mercury poisoning, and, if our seafood is coming from the Pacific North West, we now have to wonder if it’s laden with radiation from the shores of Japan.
Fortunately for us finding fresh and local is often an option, and even when it’s not, knowing the origin isn’t that hard. Besides there being lots of information online (The Natural Resources Defense Council has a list of mercury levels in different fish, including notes on which fish are being endangered by the way they’re caught or raised) any questions concerning the specific fish you’re buying can be directed to your fish monger. Whether you have a local fish shop like I do (Monahan’s, in Kerrytown), or just the seafood counter in the grocery store, the guys back there are trained to do more than just wrap and weigh your purchase.
Ask questions, start a conversation, get to know them. Honestly, I want to start an affair with my fish monger – love that man. More than once I’ve called ahead to find out what they have fresh that morning, or to ask them to save me some before it’s all gone.

Alright, enough about fish in the bigger picture, what about the fish on my plate?

While Tilapia is a heavily farmed fish, it is by no means in danger of losing its natural habitat or going extinct. It also has some of the lowest levels of mercury, and is very lean and high in protein – with only 1 gram of fat and 7 grams of protein per ounce. Plus it’s packed with potassium, selenium, zinc, b-12 and many other essential vitamins and minerals.

And, it’s tasty! On to the cooking!!!

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Tilapia with Arugula Walnut Pesto and Lemon
(Serves 4)

For the pesto:

1 cup arugula, packed
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup walnuts halves, heaping
1 shallot
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

In a dry pan over medium heat, toast walnuts. Shake the pan or stir every 2-3 minutes until warm and lightly darkened.
Add first six ingredients to your food processor and pulse a few times. Drizzle in olive oil while blending, watching for the right consistency. I used about a quarter cup of oil, keeping mine fairly thick, but if you’d like it thinner by all means add more. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed.
Once you’re close to the right consistency, add some salt and fresh cracked pepper. Taste and adjust as necessary.

Set aside.

For the Tilapia:

4 Tilapia filets (about 1 lb.)
1 lemon
1 TBSP olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper, and slice the lemon into thin rounds.
Lay the fish into the pan and surround with lemon slices. Reduce heat to medium, and cook 4-5 minutes.
Gently flip tilapia and lemons and cook an additional 4-5 minutes, or until the fish is flaky when touched with a fork.

Plate, and serve with pesto.

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Getting your vitamins should always taste this good!

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