Pesto Salmon and Pasta—easy, flavorful, wholesome, and satisfying. Thick salmon fillets get topped with both pesto and a Parmesan-breadcrumb mixture. They're then baked and broiled to create fillets with crispy tops and a juicy, flaky insides.
Served over a bed of pesto pasta, made with angel hair and zucchini noodles, you've got a full meal in under 45 minutes!
This pesto salmon recipe is:
- Wholesome & light
- Heart-healthy (omega fatty acids!)
- Gluten-free optional
What you’ll need for this pesto salmon and pasta recipe:
Thick skin-on salmon fillets — 1–1½ inch thick is ideal!
Pesto — homemade or store-bought refrigerated pesto
Grated Parmesan — it’s important to discern the difference between grated and shredded. Shredded means strands of cheese—imagine what cheese looks like when shredded on a large-hole grater. Grated means cheese that's been grated over the tiny holes of a cheese grater into itty bitty pieces (almost powder). I recommend buying refrigerated grated Parmesan cheese instead of shelf-stable varieties.
Breadcrumbs — preferably whole-wheat, and preferably Panko
Angel hair pasta — whole-wheat if desired, gluten-free if needed. And remember, cooking pasta in salted water is essential!
Zucchini — for spiralizing and combining with the pasta!
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING SALMON:
For this salmon pesto pasta recipe, look for thick salmon fillets—1 to 1½ inches thick is ideal. If the only fillets you can find are thinner, decrease the cook time by a few minutes. I would start checking them at about 6 minutes instead of 8–10 minutes.
The reason I use thicker fillets for this recipe is two-fold; one, it allows me to get a nice crispy crust on the breadcrumbs without over-cooking the salmon. And two, the thickness combined with the weight (4-ounces) creates the ideal ratio of topping to fish.
I also find that 4-ounce fillets are the ideal portion when served with the pesto pasta. If you prefer larger fillets go ahead and use 6-ounce fillets—if you go this route, plan on using more pesto and more breadcrumb topping.
- Avoid salmon filets that have breaks or cracks in the muscle, both within the muscle itself and along the white collagen sheaths. This indicates mishandling and degradation.
- Avoid any packages that have pooling of water, another sure sign of degradation.
- Look for filets that are bright and saturated in color.
- Salmon filets should have a bright contrast between the muscle and the fat.
- Choose filets that are glossy and firm to the touch.
- Avoid filets that are chalky, dry, sticky and soft to the touch.
- Salmon filets should smell fresh and clean, and slightly briny or like the ocean. Fresh fish should never smell “fishy.”
- Check out more tips on buying salmon in my guide on buying salmon!
Want to learn more about buying fish sustainably? Check out one of my favorite resources—the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Let’s talk pesto
For this recipe you can use whatever pesto you prefer, whether that’s your favorite recipe or your favorite store-bought product. I always prefer homemade basil pesto, so I shared my go-to pesto in this recipe! But I’m also realistic that making your own pesto is just one more step to getting dinner on the table.
When I make this recipe for dinner I’ll often grab some refrigerated pesto from our local high-end market and skip making my own. Refrigerated is the key word here. Refrigerated pesto from the store is much more flavorful than the jarred stuff that has sat on the shelf for a while.
Can you use jarred? Of course! I’m not trying to be a diva, I’m just giving it to you straight. Because frankly, if you’re going to buy a pre-made product, why not buy the best if the difference in cost is nominal?
How to bake pesto salmon
- Preheat your oven to 400-degrees with racks set in both upper third and middle position (we’ll use both racks); prep your baking sheet by lining it with foil.
- Pat the salmon fillets dry with paper towels (this helps the pesto stick to the flesh) and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the pesto over the fillets, spreading it out as needed to cover the top. Some oil from the pesto will drip off, that’s OK!
- Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmesan and spoon it over the pesto on top of each fillet. Use as much of the breadcrumb mixture as you can, then lightly pack the breadcrumbs onto the fish to help it adhere.
- Bake the salmon until nearly done, about 8 minutes (give or take a couple of minutes depending on the thickness of your fillets). You don’t want it cooked through yet!
- Turn the oven to broil and transfer the fillets to the top rack. Broil the salmon until the breadcrumbs are crispy and golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Pesto Salmon Pasta
I love to serve this pesto salmon with pesto pasta. To keep things light, I combine delicate angel hair pasta with spiralized zucchini (aka zoodles). The combination of pasta and zucchini creates a wonderful balance of textures, and it keeps things fresh.
If you aren't in to zucchini, you can certainly skip it. In that case, use one pound dry angel hair pasta instead of eight ounces.
Often times I'll substitute the angel hair pasta with my favorite whole-wheat or whole-grain spaghetti if I need more whole grains that day.
Looking to keep things gluten-free? Use your favorite gluten-free pasta!
Pesto recipes to try:
What to serve with Pesto Salmon
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Light, savory, and satisfying, this pesto salmon recipe is quick and easy—perfect for weeknights or special occasions. Serve with the pesto pasta and zoodles, or skip the pasta and serve with roasted vegetables, salad, or dinner rolls.
Herb Pesto (or use store-bought!)
- 1 ½ cups (lightly packed) basil
- ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- ¼ cup (packed) Italian parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh chives
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- ½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt
- ⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pesto Pasta & Zoodles:
- 1 ½ medium zucchini (or 2 small), spiralized
- ½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 8 ounces angel hair pasta
- ½ cup of the prepared pesto, or store-bought*
- 5 skin-on salmon fillets (4-ounces each), 1–1½ inches thick
- ¼ cup of the prepared pesto, or store-bought*
- Morton kosher salt and black pepper
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 3 tablespoons whole-wheat bread crumbs, preferably Panko
For the pesto, pulse basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, parsley, chives, garlic, and salt together in a food processor until finely chopped. With processor running, stream in oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Skip this step if using store-bought pesto.
Heat oven to 400°F (204ºC) with racks set in both upper third and middle positions. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Toss zucchini noodles with ½ teaspoon salt in a colander set over a bowl; let sit 15 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; season generously with salt, add angel hair pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water then drain pasta. Add pasta back to now empty pot with ½ cup pesto.
Meanwhile, pat salmon fillets dry with a paper towel; arrange skin-side down on prepared sheet and season lightly with salt and pepper. (If the ends of the fillets are really thin, slightly tuck them under to encourage even cooking). Spread scant 1 tablespoon pesto over top of each fillet. Combine Parmesan and breadcrumbs; spoon evenly over fillets, pressing down lightly to adhere.
Bake fillets until nearly cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the centers registers 120ºF (49ºC), 8–10 minutes (start checking at 6 minutes if using thinner fillets). Turn oven to broil, transfer sheet to top rack and broil fillets until topping is golden brown and crispy and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the centers registers 140ºF (60ºC), about 3 minutes.
Squeeze zucchini noodles to release excess liquid (when you think you’re done, squeeze a bit more), discard liquid and transfer zucchini noodles to pot with cooked pasta and pesto; toss gently to combine. Adjust consistency with reserved pasta water by ¼ cup as needed; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve salmon over pasta with additional Parmesan, pesto, and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
30-MINUTE MEAL: use store-bought pesto instead of making a homemade pesto.
*STORE-BOUGHT PESTO: If you’d rather use purchased pesto, seek out fresh refrigerated pesto as opposed to jarred pesto—it has much better flavor!
HOMEMADE PESTO: pesto recipe above makes 1¼ cups.
QUICK TIP: cooking the salmon skin side down, on an ungreased baking sheet, makes it so the skin sticks to the pan. Why is this great? Well the skin helps keep the salmon nice and moist while cooking, but when it comes time to serve, you leave the unwanted skin behind! Voila, best of both worlds! If you’re someone who enjoys salmon skin, lightly grease the foil with nonstick cooking spray before placing the salmon on it.
GLUTEN-FREE OPTION: use gluten-free pasta or use all zucchini noodles instead of a combination of pasta and zucchini noodles.
WHOLE-GRAIN OPTION: use whole-wheat pasta in place of regular angel hair pasta.
- Serving Size: estimate for ⅕ of the recipe
- Calories: 484
- Sugar: 3g
- Sodium: 407mg
- Fat: 23g
- Saturated Fat: 5.5g
- Carbohydrates: 37g
- Fiber: 3g
- Protein: 30g
- Cholesterol: 67mg
Keywords: pesto salmon, baked salmon, pesto salmon pasta