Salsa is the top-selling condiment in the United States. For the fresh version, Latino cooks sometimes add to the primal combination of tomatoes, onions, hot chile, cilantro and lime, mix-ins like black beans or corn. They also make tropical fruit salsas that skip tomatoes altogether, and salsa verde based on softly green tomatillos.

Salsa is also fundamental to the Italian table. Here, too, there are tomato-based red salsas and salsa verde, which in this case uses not tomatillos but a combination of parsley and other aromatic fresh herbs, plus anchovy, capers, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar or lemon juice. As in Mexico, some of these salsas are served raw and others are cooked.

An Italian salsa I like particularly calls for onions, garlic and fresh tomatoes cooked for just a few minutes, only until they soften slightly, plus olives and capers. Simple, like most Italian cooking, this salsa elevates pan-seared tilapia and other seafood to a splendid Mediterranean dish.

So splendid that you will not even think about the salsas nutritional benefits, particularly the increased bio-availability of the lycopene, an antioxidant found abundantly in tomatoes, thanks to cooking them briefly and adding a modest amount of oil. Now, as local tomatoes reach their peak, is the ideal time to make this warm, vibrant salsa.

Tilapia with Warm Tomato Salsa

Yield: Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. beefsteak-style tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (see note)
  • 4 oil-cured or Greek olives, pitted and cut in thin strips
  • 1 Tbsp. small capers, rinsed and drained
  • Salt and ground pepper
  • 1 1/4 lbs. tilapia filets
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

  1. In medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add garlic and cook until onions are translucent, 4 minutes, stirring often. Add tomatoes and cook until they release liquid and are slightly soft but still holding their shape, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in olives and capers. Season salsa to taste with pepper. Set salsa aside, or transfer to container, cool, seal and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. To warm, heat salsa in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lukewarm, 4-5 minutes.
  2. Lightly season fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat medium skillet liberally with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat. Arrange tilapia in the pan, topside down, and cook until crusty on bottom, about 4 minutes. Using large pancake turner, turn filets and cook until white in center at thickest part, 2 to 4 minutes. Place each filet on dinner plate. Spoon one-fourth of warm salsa over fish and serve.

Note: To peel tomatoes, either use serrated vegetable peeler or plunge them into a large pot of boiling water until skin cracks, 30-60 seconds, remove with slotted spoon, and lift skin off tomatoes using your fingers.

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Nutritional Information Per Serving:
220 calories
7 g total fat
1.5 g saturated fat
10 g carbohydrate
30 g protein
3 g dietary fiber
210 mg sodium


Dana Jacobi, author of “12 Best Foods” Cookbook.