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Lost Italian: Start Lent off right with Italian Baked Cod with Roasted Tomatoes

For a perfect Lenten supper, bake the cod with roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, fresh thyme, lemons and a sprinkling of dried oregano and smoked paprika. David Samson / The Forum1 / 3
Italian Baked Cod is made with mild, flaky Atlantic Cod fillets and accented with the flavors of tomato, lemon and thyme. David Samson / The Forum2 / 3
Bake the fish until each fillet is fully opaque and flaky. Spoon the juices from the pan over the fish fillets before serving. David Samson / The Forum3 / 3

Today is Ash Wednesday, and in our Catholic family that means abstaining from eating meat today and on Fridays throughout the Lenten season. We are always looking for ways to eat healthier, and so we welcome this opportunity to add a lean, healthy protein to our weekly dinners, like this week’s Italian Baked Cod with Roasted Tomatoes.

Cod is a perfect white fish for this recipe. Mild in flavor with a thick, flaky-yet-firm texture, cod is versatile enough to partner with a variety of robust flavors, like cherry tomatoes and Kalamata olives. Halibut and mahimahi would also work well for this dish, which might otherwise overpower a more delicate fish like walleye or tilapia.

In addition to its pleasing flavor and texture, cod is also easy to find and affordable. Today’s recipe was inspired by a recent trip to Costco in Fargo, where I was pleased to find gorgeous Icelandic cod fillets on sale for just under $8 a pound. A single package contained two large fillets with a combined weight of about 4 to 5 pounds, and since this recipe uses only 2 pounds of cod, I cut the fillets into individual portions and wrapped the extra pieces well with plastic wrap to freeze for later use.

The American Heart Association recommends eating 4 ounces of fish at least one to two times a week, and cod boasts a bounty of nutritional benefits. A single portion of cod contains between 15 to 20 grams of protein, as well as a host of other important nutrients like vitamins B3, B6 and B12, which are important for the body to function properly, and minerals like phosphorus, iodine and selenium that help boost energy, bone health and cellular health. So, cod was a no-brainer for this new recipe.

Thankfully, on that same trip to Costco, I also discovered a charming variety of cherry tomatoes called Flavor Bombs that looked so sweet and juicy that I knew I had to include them in this recipe. I’m so glad I did because Tony went positively gaga for these aptly named little beauties, which are grown in North America from seeds sourced in the south of France. If you can’t get to Costco, feel free to use whatever variety of cherry or small, vine-ripened tomatoes are available.

The tomatoes are tossed with olive oil, shaved garlic, fresh basil and seasoning and roasted for about 10 minutes before being added to the fish. This helps to intensify their flavor and makes them almost melt into the fish as it bakes.

For this recipe, I season the cod fillets with a light sprinkling of salt, pepper, dried oregano, crushed red pepper and smoked or plain paprika. Fresh lemon and thyme are added, as well as the pre-roasted cherry tomatoes and a scattering of Kalamata olives (green olives would also be good). Oven temperatures vary, but the cod should only need about 12 to 14 minutes in a 400-degree oven until it is baked through, opaquely white, flaky and ready to eat.

Easy to make, light and nutritious, I have a feeling this Italian Baked Cod with Roasted Tomatoes will become a Lenten favorite for us. I hope you enjoy it, too.

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Italian Baked Cod with Roasted Tomatoes

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh cod, cut into 4 to 6 fillets

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Dried oregano flakes

Crushed red pepper flakes

Paprika, smoked or plain

1 lemon

Olive oil

3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme

¼ cup Kalamata olives (or other high-quality olive)

Roasted tomatoes

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use oil (canola or olive) to lightly grease a shallow baking dish.

Place fish fillets in the dish. Season the fish with a light sprinkling over each fillet of the salt, pepper, dried oregano, red pepper flakes and paprika.

Cut the lemon in half. Cut half into thin slices and place the slices around the fish. Squeeze the other half over the fish, discarding any seeds that may be released.

Drizzle each fillet with olive oil, about 1 teaspoon per fillet. Scatter the thyme sprigs, olives and roasted tomatoes evenly around the dish, then pour any remaining tomato drippings over the fish.

Bake at 400 degrees until fully opaque, about 12 to 14 minutes. The top should feel firm when pressed and the inside should be completely white, delicate and flaky.

Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients:

½ pound cherry tomatoes (about 2 dozen)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, thinly shaved

1 teaspoon fresh basil, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with oil, shaved garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Transfer tomatoes to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them out in a single layer.

Roast until the tomatoes begin to blister and the juices just start to run out. Remove from oven and set aside, keeping the tomatoes on the foil to preserve the juices. Best when prepared within an hour of adding to the baked cod dish. Also, great tossed with pasta or salads or on sandwiches.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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