Roast Cod with Pesto, Chorizo and Cherry Tomatoes

by Kristin on July 12, 2012

Suburban Illinois in the 1980s wasn’t a terribly cosmopolitan place (not that it is now either). When it came to food, the most exotic thing I ate was fettuccine Alfredo in the local Italian restaurant, and the first time I had pesto, it was from a dried packet mix. It was a sad, dusty, lifeless version of itself, dehydrated to death. It would be years before I had the real thing and realised what I’d been missing out on all that time.

A few weeks ago, I stood ankle deep in basil in the fields in Piedmont, Italy, that supply Sacla with the basil used to make their pesto. As you approach the fields of the Amateis family farm, passing the peach trees and cattle sheds and a field of wheat dotted with poppies opposite the basil, the scent rises up on the warm air and wraps itself around you. For someone who started a garden just so I could have a non-stop supply of basil (though it didn’t quite work out that way), it was like all my American summers rushing back at once.

There’s enough basil in a one-hectare field to make 145,000 jars of Sacla pesto, and since the plants are cut four times by an elegant custom-built harvester, it means that in one season, one field grows enough basil to make a whopping 580,000 jars of pesto that get exported to over 50 countries around the world.

Pesto is a relatively new import to Ireland — Clare Blampied, MD of Sacla UK, is called the ‘Pesto Pioneer’ for her success in introducing it to the UK and Ireland in the early 1990s (probably right around the time I had my first encounter with that dried packet). These days, we don’t just use pesto as a pasta sauce, but on pizzas, in sandwiches, soups and salads, as a dressing (like in the recipe below) or a garnish (or anyone for pesto panna cotta?). It’s hard to imagine that something we take for granted now, as much a part of our everyday kitchen lexicon as Bolognese, bruschetta or biscotti, was once such a novelty.

A jar of pesto is now one of my store cupboard staples, handy for a quick-fix pasta supper or to add a boost of vibrant flavour to an otherwise dull dish. Now, every time I reach for that jar I’ll remember those acres of basil on the Amateis family farm on a sunny summer day in Italy — a memory of what pesto is meant to be, and a far cry from my first taste of it all those years ago.

Roast Cod with Pesto, Chorizo and Cherry Tomatoes
adapted from Dorcas Barry in The Irish Independent

Serves 4

Dorcas says this is a quick and easy family dish, and it’s a new favorite in my house. She also says that the cod can be easily replaced with any white chunky fish or good-quality frozen cod fillets (just increase the cooking time by about 10 minutes). This recipe would also work well with chicken breasts, in which case everything should all be cooked together for 30 to 35 minutes.

1 lb (450 g) cherry tomatoes
6 oz (150 g) chorizo, cut into large chunks (not too small or it will burn)
4 or 5 large garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
1 red onion, cut into wedges through the root
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 heaped tablespoons good-quality pesto
4 cod fillets
salt and freshly ground black pepper
green salad, to serve
crusty bread, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Place the cherry tomatoes, chorizo, garlic and red onion in a large casserole dish or baking sheet. In a separate small bowl, mix together the olive oil and pesto to form a loose dressing, adding more olive oil if it needs to be thinned further. Drizzle the pesto over the ingredients in the dish, reserving some of the dressing to drizzle over the fish at the end. Toss everything together so it all gets coated with the pesto. Place in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have started to burst and release their juices and the onion is softening. Remove from the oven and place the cod fillets on top. Season well with salt and pepper and return to the oven for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until the cod is cooked through. Divide between 4 shallow bowls and drizzle the remaining pesto dressing over the top of the cod. Serve with a green salad and plenty of crusty bread to mop of the juices.

Here are some more pesto recipes from my other blog, Dinner du Jour:

And here are 10 other ideas for how to use pesto from The Kitchn as well as a round-up of articles and recipes from issue #140 of Saveur.

I travelled to Italy as a guest of Sacla UK and with Panache PR.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Clare July 12, 2012 at 11:41 am

Is it weird that I want to roll around naked in that field of Sacla basil? It just looks so inviting! The trip sounds fab and what a treat to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making that little jar of pesto.

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Alan Bourke July 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Yes. Yes it is weird. But completely admirable.

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Caroline@Bibliocook July 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

That would make such a great picture!

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:11 am

So sorry you couldn’t join us, Clare – but here’s to your trip this autumn! ;)

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Emily July 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

How fun! Something about rows upon rows of the same thing is just so visually appealing – not to mention mouth watering!

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:10 am

Especially when it’s row upon row of basil – seeing as how we have to make do with one or two lonely plants on a windowsill here!

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Vicky July 12, 2012 at 11:47 am

Looks like a wonderful trip. Cod looks delicious too, I bet those tomatoes are bursting with flavour.

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:09 am

It’s one of those dishes where everything combines just perfectly. Yum!

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Thanh @ eat, little bird July 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Wow! How lucky of you to visit the basil plantation used by Sacla! I’m so envious. The photos are just amazing.

I have to admit that I was never really a great fan of pesto until one day I made it at home from scratch. The flavour of homemade pesto is just amazing and I have never bought a jar of pesto since (probably not what Sacla and other manufacturers want to hear!).

P.S. I didn’t even know it was possible to make pesto from a dried packet mix!

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:09 am

Sadly, it is possible to make pesto from a dried packet mix – though why on earth anyone would want to is beyond me!

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Helen Tilston July 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Good Morning

I have just found your blog and shall immediately add you to my blog list.

Your post is timely. We will be in rural Cork shortly on holiday and a visit to Cork Market for fish is on the schedule. I shall print this out and take it with me.

Looking forward to knowing your blog and to welcoming you to mine and I relish all comments

Helen xx

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:04 am

This would be a great holiday dish – so easy to prepare and everything goes in one tray. Enjoy the dish – and your holidays!

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Gio of The Hungry Giant July 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

I started to care for a little basil plant and I waited for it to grow big enough so I could harvest leaves to make a decent amount of pesto. Sadly I had to leave my hometown even before I got to “use” the basil more. I’m amazed at how much basil there is in the field!

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

There was basil as far as the eye could see! Incredible.

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Sheila Kiely July 17, 2012 at 11:51 am

What a fabulous dish Kristin, all made in one pot and sounds super tasty, I will definitely be giving this a try. Pesto and even pasta for that matter didn’t come into my life until my 20s, and late 20s at that! I always, always have a jar on standby to jizz up a meal :) Sheila

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Kristin July 20, 2012 at 7:02 am

I’m always on the lookout for one-pot – or in this case, one-pan – dinners. This one is a new favourite. As for me, I’ve eaten so much pasta in my life that I think my blood must be part durum wheat by now! It was on heavy rotation in my house growing up.

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Fiona August 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for that wonderful post. I can smell the basil from here!! This recipe is nice and easy to prepare after a long day at work. Thanks Fiona

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Kristin August 16, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I love recipes where you just pop everything onto a tray, like this one – like you said, a lifesaver at the end of a long weekday!

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