- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, while I was looking at a back issue of a British food magazine, my eye was caught by a photograph of pancetta-wrapped salmon on a bed of peas. I loved the vibrant colors of the dish — the coral-hued fillets resting upon a verdant field of spring peas.

Right away, I decided that this entree would serve as inspiration for our family's Easter dinner.

Although pancetta (cured Italian bacon) would provide a nice salty coating for the salmon and keep it from becoming dry, I topped my fillets with a flavorful butter with accents of lemon zest, garlic, shallots and parsley.

This butter took only seconds to assemble in a food processor and was flecked with bits of green from the parsley. It provided a distinctive seasoning for the fish and also kept it moist.

The fillets needed less than 15 minutes of roasting time, and while they were in the oven, I popped some peas (fresh or frozen work equally well) in boiling water, cooked them for only a few minutes, then tossed them with some of the delectable butter used on the salmon.

Because Easter at our house will be hectic and will include an egg hunt for our two young grandchildren, this salmon and peas main course will fit my schedule perfectly. It gets high marks for being simple and not taking long to put together.

A bonus is that the seasoned butter can be prepared a day ahead so that it's ready to be spread on the fish. For easy sides, I plan to offer some boiled red-skinned potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and a watercress and red onion salad dressed in vinaigrette.

Roasted salmon on a bed of peas

Makes 4 servings.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus parsley sprigs for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus thin lemon slices for garnish

Kosher salt

Olive oil for greasing the baking sheet

4 salmon fillets, about 3/4-inch thick and about 6 ounces each

6 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

3 cups fresh peas or a 16-ounce bag frozen peas, defrosted (see note)

Combine butter, parsley, shallots, garlic, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor; pulse to combine, about 30 seconds. (The butter can be prepared a day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large-rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease well with olive oil.

Place the salmon filets on the baking sheet, skin sides down. Sprinkle each filet with 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice and season generously with salt and pepper. Let rest for 10 minutes. Remove 3 tablespoons of the flavored butter and reserve for seasoning the peas.

Using a metal spatula or table knife, spread remaining butter evenly over the tops of the fillets. Bake the salmon until flesh flakes easily when pierced with a knife and is opaque, about 12 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. (If your fillets are closer to an inch they will need 2 to 3 minutes more in the oven.)

While the salmon is baking, bring a medium large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and peas, and cook until peas are just tender, 3 to 4 minutes or more for fresh peas and about 2 minutes for frozen. Drain peas well and return them to the pot. Toss them with the reserved 3 tablespoons butter until it has melted. Season peas with salt to taste.

Spread the peas on a serving platter and arrange fillets on top. Garnish each serving with a parsley sprig and lemon slice.

Notes: Frozen peas that have been defrosted can be substituted for fresh. One 16-ounce bag equals 3 cups. Frozen peas cook more quickly, in about 2 minutes, than fresh, which take 3 to 4 minutes or more.

This recipe easily can be doubled. Just make certain you have a serving platter that will easily hold a double batch of the salmon and peas.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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