Many Roman Catholics are presently observing Lent (a period of fasting that takes place 40 days prior to Easter). This means they’re staying away from meat, dairy products and/or sugar. For my fellow Italians as well as people of other cultures, fish replaces meat.
Here’s a fantastic recipe that I’ve taught in my recent culinary courses – Salmon Torta. Btw, “salmon en croute” is an Italian invention called “torta di salmone”.
Enjoy this Torta di salmone not just on Good Friday, but anytime you wish to make a great impression on someone. The flavors of dried cherries, nutmeg, cinnamon and mint in the salmon stuffing will astound them all!
Prep time: 25 minutes (pastry); 25 minutes (salmon)
Bake time: 25 to 30 minutes
FIRST, PREPARE THE PASTRY:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash ground black pepper
1 large egg, beaten with 1/3 cup cold water in a small bowl
1. In a 2-quart mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper.
2. Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add the beaten egg mixture to the well.
3. Using a fork, gradually (a little at a time) mix in the flour from sides of well until a soft dough forms.
4. With one hand holding the bowl, use the other hand to pick up the mound of dough and gently knead it inside the bowl, grabbing a little flour at a time.
5. When the dough is smooth and soft, set it aside on a floured surface, covered with an overturned bowl.
6. Pass the remaining flour in bowl through a sieve and set it aside (it will be used later to roll out the dough). MeanwhilE-
PREPARE THE SALMON FILETS:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh salmon filets, cut into four pieces (each measuring about 4X3 inches)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced yellow or white onion
1/3 cup minced fresh, Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup minced fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup dried, tart, pitted cherries, minced with shears
1 teaspoon salt
Dash each ground black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon
2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
1. Line a 12X18-inch baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the salmon filets and sear them on medium-high heat. DO NOT TOUCH THE FILETS FOR 60 TO 90 SECONDS.
3. After 60 to 90 seconds, using a spatula, GENTLY TURN OVER THE FILETS. DO NOT TOUCH THE FILETS FOR 60 TO 90 SECONDS.
4. After 60 to 90 seconds, transfer the skillet with salmon filets to a cold burner or surface; set aside.
5. In a 1-pint mixing bowl, combine the garlic, onion, parsley, mint leaves and cherries; set aside.
ROLL OUT THE PASTRY & ASSEMBLE THE TORTA:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Holding the pastry dough between both hands, flatten it to a 6-inch roundish rectangle. Lay it on a flat, lightly floured surface.
2. Lightly flouring the top of the flattened pastry dough, begin rolling it out. After every 2 to 3 rolls, CAREFULLY FLIP PASTRY CIRCLE OVER AND ONTO THE LIGHTLY FLOURED SURFACE.
3. Continue rolling out the pastry circle UNTIL IT BECOMES A RECTANGLE, measuring 16X10 inches.
4. Carefully transfer the rolled-out pastry rectangle onto the parchment-lined baking sheet; set aside.
5. Prepare a bed for the fish filets by placing half of the onion-herb mixture in the center of the pastry rectangle, forming a horizontal row (across).
6. Place the seared salmon filets over the row of onion-herb mixture.
7. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg evenly over the salmon filets.
8. Distribute the breadcrumbs evenly over the spices covering the filets.
9. Spread the remaining onion-herb mixture over the row of filets.
10. Close one long side of the pastry over the stuffed filets. Fold over the other pastry flap.
11. Turn the short sides of the pastry underneath the salmon torta; set aside. If desired, using a sharp, pointed knife, cut out leaf shapes from scraps of dough and place them on top of salmon torta.
MAKE THE EGG WASH:
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold water
1. Crack the egg over a small bowl, discarding egg white. Using a fork, mix the egg yolk with 1 teaspoon cold water and set it aside.
2. With a sharp knife, cut 4 to 5 slits on pastry top of the salmon torta. Brush top of salmon torta with the egg wash.
3. Place baking sheet with the salmon torta on a rack positioned in center of preheated oven.
4. Bake the salmon torta for 25 to 30 minutes. After 25 minutes, check to see if pastry has turned light golden brown. If it is still pale, bake the salmon torta for an additional 5 to 8 minutes.
5. Immediately transfer the salmon torta in baking sheet to a counter; let it cool for 6 to 8 minutes before cutting.
6. Cut six 3-inch slices, placing each one on a dinner plate, accompanied by A Side of Carrots and Green Beans (previously published on this blog). Alternatively, serve with other types of vegetables.
White wine pairing suggestion: chilled Pinot Grigio.
Text and Photograph ©2013 Nancy DeLucia Real