Fresh Herb Roasted Salmon

by Bonnie Sparrman

Food Ruts That Satisfy Our Need for Nourishment

Food Ruts…we all fall into them. Even as I write, I’m chomping on one of my worst offenders … Skinny-Pop Popcorn, which if one eats half the bag, has nothing to do with “skinny.” But there are meal ruts as well: Taco Tuesday, pizza on Friday, burgers on Saturday. Or perhaps you begin each morning with the same breakfast cereal at least six days a week. When visiting my brother’s, we say “Thank goodness for Sunday!” because that’s when he breaks out the griddle and makes a mountain of Swedish pancakes for everyone in the house.

Consider holiday meals: most of us expect certain foods for specific occasions. Why do we crave pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and ham on Easter? Stranger yet, why does lutfisk still appear on the Christmas Eve menu of many Scandinavians? Naturally, pumpkins are ripe in autumn and taste best that time of year. However, I venture to guess that most pumpkin pies come from cans and is every bit as available in June as in November. Still, pumpkin pies abound in the fall, and Christmas lutfisk comes forth amid groans, perhaps to prove the tenacity of Viking descendants. Maybe there’s more to our culinary choices than just tradition and habit.

What about the anticipation of sitting down to a table where we know we’ll be fed, body and soul? At some meals, the body might be sufficiently nourished … and at some, the soul. For example, we might partake of a memorable feast, but it’s simply the backdrop for an intense business meeting. Any notice of the delights on our plate must be enjoyed in mute solitude. In such situations, I feel sure I’m the only one at the table noticing the entirely new flavor created by the combination of shallots and rosemary. I want to say “Mmm … isn’t this sauce divine?” But I hold back, sensing that sumptuous flavors ride far beneath the importance of the agenda.

On the flip-side, some meals overflow with love and good cheer, though the food itself is very commonplace. My husband and I cherish the memory of enjoying hot dogs (something I never choose) with an elderly couple who shared so much love it didn’t matter what we ate or that our legs turned to popsicles sitting on cold ground. Deep love and care for us, as newcomers to Minnesota, warmed our souls so completely, the rest was superfluous.

But what a blessing it is when the meal involves both tasty food and a spirit of love! That’s the repast I long for; the combination of Mary’s gift for relational attentiveness and Martha’s desire to meet the needs of her guests. We come to the table to stem the growling in our stomach, but also to fill the aching hole in our heart. We need to hear each other’s stories and perhaps offer our own. For me, the best meals ring with laughter. Do you have a childhood memory where hearty guffaws at the dinner table resulted in a premature excusing to collect oneself? I do, and those were my favorite meals by far, though they may have been cut short.

When I think of great dinners where stimulating conversation, warm camaraderie, and delicious food come together, I think of my book group. We are a group of six who have worked with each other in various professional kitchens. Once a month we gather to discuss a book and enjoy a beautiful meal. These evenings are a feast for the intellect as well as for the taste buds as we take turns choosing a book and cooking. One of my favorite meals was prepared by my friend, Paige, a wonderful Cordon Bleu chef. Paige cares for her ingredients, handling each one gently and respectfully, to create a beautiful mosaic of flavors, textures, and colors. One spring evening, she treated us to herb roasted salmon that has been part of my repertoire ever since. Now it’s one of our family’s most adored “ruts,” which we enjoy in any season.

When I prepare this dish, I always hope to reduplicate the spirit around Paige’s table, where six women, who are more different than alike, gladly

gather. In loving fellowship, we strengthen the bonds of friendship, and encourage one another in cooking, reading, and living. It’s around the table, where we nourish each other, body and soul. We care for one another as we prepare the meal, pour wine into a friend’s glass, and listen without interrupting. Discussing a book and eating well are good excuses to meet, but the loving friendships that have grown out of these meals, hold the greatest value by far.

PHOTOS: Eric Sparrman

Fresh Herb Roasted Salmon

2 ½ T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 to 3 anchovies, smashed to a paste with the side of the knife
2 T. each: fresh dill, chives, tarragon or Italian parsley; finely chopped
Juice and zest of half of a lemon; save the other half for garnish
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. pepper
4-5 pieces of fresh salmon fillet (5 oz. each)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk together all the ingredients from olive oil to pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning.

Place the salmon portions, skin side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pat fish dry with paper towel. Spread each piece of fish with herb mixture. Bake to desired doneness—about 7 to 8 minutes for medium-rare. (130 degrees F., internal temperature) Serve with lemon wedges.

Serves 4 to 5

This dish is healthful, simple to prepare, and if any happens to be left over, goes delightfully well into scrambled eggs or salmon rillettes.