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Lost Italian: Pair pan-fried walleye, Caprese orzo salad for summer-flavor symphony

Parmesan-Pepper Walleye
Parmesan-Pepper Walleye paired with lemon aioli and a Caprese orzo salad offers a summer flavor combination that sings. Dave Wallis / The Forum
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We’re debuting a new summer menu this week at Sarello’s, and I am happy to announce that one of my all-time favorite items has swum its way back into the mix: Parmesan-Pepper Walleye.
Mention walleye to almost any local, and you’ll find that we are pretty much crazy about this king of the lake. So what is it about walleye that makes it such a local favorite, even for non-anglers? For starters, walleye is widely available throughout our region, even in rural areas where fresh seafood can be difficult to find.
This mild, white lake fish is extremely versatile and can be enjoyed pan-fried, deep fried, oven-baked, grilled – you name it. It is sweet and flaky, with a lightness that contrasts nicely from some richer fish varieties like sea bass or salmon.
We’ve served walleye in a variety of different ways at Sarello’s, but this Parmesan-pepper preparation is by far the most popular among our guests. Our son, Gio, isn’t a big fan of fish in general, but even he can’t resist this savory local specialty when it’s prepared this way.
To begin, create a simple breadcrumb coating of Japanese breadcrumbs (a must for this recipe), black pepper, Parmesan cheese, granulated garlic and salt. Dredge each walleye fillet first in flour, followed by a quick dip in egg wash, and then coat each piece completely in the breadcrumb mixture.
Next, we fry the fillets in vegetable oil over medium-high heat until golden brown all over. Then transfer them to a baking sheet to be finished off in a 400-degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. The breading seals in the heat and ensures that the fish stays moist.
When I prepared this recipe over the recent holiday weekend, I served it with lemon aioli and a Caprese orzo salad, a combination of flavors that just sings, “Summer is here!”
The made-from-scratch lemon aioli works as a great alternative to the more conventional tartar sauce, especially for mayo-phobes like Gio and me.
The Caprese orzo salad offers flavors that are mellow, easy and of the season – just like the walleye. Orzo is the little pasta that looks similar to rice, and we tossed it in extra-virgin olive oil with sliced grape tomatoes, cubes of fresh mozzarella and a little fresh basil, creating great color on the plate.
With a little advance preparation, this is a pretty quick meal to assemble. The breadcrumbs and aioli can be prepared up to one week in advance and set aside until ready to use. Several hours before serving, you can bread the walleye fillets and prepare all of the ingredients for the salad: Cook the orzo, slice the tomatoes, and cube the mozzarella. Give the orzo at least an hour to chill in the refrigerator before adding the other ingredients, and wait to dress it with fresh basil, olive oil and seasoning until just ready to serve.
Once you’re ready to serve, sit back and wait for the wave of “oohs” and “aahs” to begin, because this meal is always a crowd pleaser. Then pour yourself a glass of pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, or for even more local flavor, try the Bear Creek La Crescent, and savor the satisfaction of a delicious summer meal.


Parmesan Pepper Walleye

Serves 4
Ingredients 4 walleye fillets
vegetable oil
For the breadcrumb mixture: 3 cups panko Japanese breadcrumbs
1 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
1½ teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For dredging: 1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten with a scant amount of milk or water
breadcrumb mixture
Directions Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Use three pie pans or any shallow, wide dish to create a dredging station for the flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs. Dip each fillet in the flour, then the egg wash, and then liberally coat in the breadcrumbs until entirely covered.
Fill a large sauté pan with about ½-inch to ¾-inch vegetable oil, and heat over medium-high for a few minutes. Test for readiness by tossing a few breadcrumbs in – when they sizzle the oil is ready for the walleye.
Add the walleye fillets (being careful not to overcrowd the pan) and cook on both sides until light golden brown in color. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain off excess oil, and then move to a lightly greased baking sheet.
Once all the walleye fillets are browned, bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. To test for doneness, break open one fillet and look for meat to be white, flaky and steaming hot.
Tony’s Tips:



  • You may have to change the oil once or twice when frying to ensure that it stays fresh.
  • The breadcrumb mixture can be prepared up to one week in advance and stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
  • To prevent sticking, spray the baking sheet lightly with cooking spray.

Lemon Aioli

Ingredients 5 large pasteurized egg yolks
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup vegetable oil (olive oil is too intense)
Directions In a food processor, blend the first four ingredients for about 1 minute until the mixture becomes pale yellow in color. Keep the processor running and add the vegetable oil in a slow, steady stream until emulsified and fully incorporated into the aioli. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
Store in a squeeze bottle or airtight container in the refrigerator for at least one week.
Tony’s Tips


  •  Lemon aioli is the basic recipe, but you can vary the flavors by adding other ingredients like roasted red peppers or dill, and reduce the lemon juice by half. Get creative!
  •  Enjoy with fish, seafood and chicken, or as a sauce for any dipping item.

Caprese Orzo Salad


Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients 2 cups dry orzo pasta
2 balls fresh mozzarella cheese, diced into ½-inch cubes
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half or quartered
6 to 8 leaves fresh basil, washed and cut chiffonade-style
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
Directions Cook the orzo pasta according to the directions on the package until al dente. Rinse immediately with cold water to stop the cooking process and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before mixing with other ingredients.
Just before serving, toss with fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil until well mixed. Add more oil if needed to lightly coat all ingredients. Season well with kosher salt and pepper, starting with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Taste and add more seasoning as desired. Serve immediately.
Tony’s Tips



  •  To chiffonade the basil, roll several leaves up together and cut into ¼-inch strips.
  • Get the bulk of the work done earlier in the day, store in the fridge and toss just before serving.
  • Kalamata olives would be a great addition to this salad.
  • Fresh mozzarella has a limited life, but leftovers can be reliably refrigerated for up to a day or two.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at . All previous recipes can be found at .

Parmesan-Pepper Walleye
Parmesan-Pepper Walleye paired with lemon aioli and a Caprese orzo salad offers a summer flavor combination that sings. Dave Wallis / The Forum

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