Seafood 101: Sauteed Tilapia with Grilled Parmesan Tomatoes, Baby Bellas, and Roasted Asparagus

I’ve never liked seafood. Shrimp, halibut, lobster, scallops, clams, calamari, sole, salmon and all of their other friends under the sea; I’ve never liked ’em. We never made friends, seafood and I, and like all troubled adults, I blame my parents.

Growing up, my only experience with fish was either Chicken of the Sea (which I knew was fish unlike one Ms. Simpson) or the Latino specialty, bacalao, or dried, salted cod. Bacalao was, and remains to this day, a staple during Lent for those meat-free Fridays. I couldn’t stand the stuff. It smells. A lot. And as a kid, anything that smelled like that was guaranteed to get me to stomp my feet or just run away if a plate with the smelly offender was placed in front of me.

Bacalao Guisado con Pimiento y Cebolla/Sauteed Bacalao with Peppers and Onions.

Once my siblings and I were old enough to be given some wiggle room for dinner, my Mom gave us the choice to eat either bacalao on Lent Fridays or what she liked to call, pure de papa con huevo aka. mashed potatoes with a soft-boiled egg. Guess what I chose? I was a very chubby kid.

As I got older, I didn’t eat much fish and seafood except for the more-mayo-than-tuna-tuna salad and the occasional fried calamari with marinara sauce at a restaurant. Oh, and of course the faux crab meat in the California rolls that I devoured during my college years, because you know, it’s ‘sushi’ so it was cool. Yes, I realize none of that really counts as seafood since it was either manufactured, breaded and fried, or slathered in mayonnaise. Oy.

Now that I’m a health-conscious adult who’s looking to expand her palate and be more adventurous with both my cooking and eating, I feel kind of left out of this whole seafood thing. It bugged me that I’d go out to dinner at restaurants with impressive seafood menus but I’d just go for the one chicken or pasta dish. I tell people I don’t like shrimp or lobster and they look at me like I’ve got two heads.

What?!” they say, all flabbergasted. “How could you NOT like seafood?! Where do you come from?!” And then I either slink away or just quickly change the subject to anything else.

So, I’m done with all of that. I made a promise to really challenge myself with food this year and to try new things. I had oysters! Well, I had one oyster! And I’ve tried to pick some of the fish or seafood dishes for my meal if I’m going somewhere new. That’s progress!

A major part of my motivation to incorporate more seafood into my diet is primarily for the health benefits associated with fish and the fact that it’s a great source of protein. My diet is currently very low on the protein end, especially meat-based protein, and this is something that concerns me. Since my exercise routine now incorporates heavy weight lifting three days a week, supplemented with running and yoga, I’m conscious of making sure I have the proper nutrition to keep my energy levels up and my body well-nourished for that amount of activity.

Fish offers me a low-calorie alternative to red meat and poultry while also supplying the super important omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the oilier and fattier variety, such as salmon. There’s the added benefit of fighting depression by helping increase serotonin levels in the brain and reducing the risk of death from heart disease by 36%. Good stuff!

Eating fish or seafood once or twice a week to gain some of these benefits and to incorporate that much-needed protein is really worth it. Also this will give me loads of new recipes to try out which is always fun.

Since this is my first time cooking any fish at all, I went for the simple tilapia. I realize that there are questions about the healthiness of farm-raised tilapia, which is more than likely what I was working with while putting this together. That said, let me suggest you give this a shot with cod, sole, or any white fish that you enjoy and you can get fresh and locally sourced. It’s definitely something I’m going to do myself now that I’ve actually got a few recipes under my belt. Trial and error is always a good thing when you’re in the kitchen!

I also wanted to showcase a few spring produce staples and luckily Trader Joe’s had some beautiful asparagus on display that day. This never-ending winter in New York has left me desperate for Spring and I figured just because it doesn’t feel like Spring, doesn’t mean I can’t eat like it. Asparagus and tomatoes are the perfect sides here.

Note that this meal comes together fairly quickly, especially if you’re organized. It’s important to keep in mind the order as I laid it out since there’s sauteing  frying  roasting, and grilling all happening back to back. By saving the fish for last, you avoid having to reheat it later and you also conserve some time while the veggies are in the oven. Just a tip from me to you!


  • 1 4oz tilapia fillet
  • 1 bunch of thin asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 2 plus tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 tbsps freshly ground parmesan cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp and 3 tsps of extra virgin olive oil, separated
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp Herbes de Provence
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Special tools:

  • Nonstick frying pan
  • Fish spatula 
  • Small frying pan
  • Rimmed baking tray
  • Cast-iron grill pan 


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray baking sheet with olive oil spray or grease with oil. Line trimmed asparagus across the tray so that they don’t overlap. Drizzle 1 tsp of olive oil over the top and sprinkle a little bit salt and freshly ground pepper over the top. Shake the pan back and forth to incorporate the seasonings and oil throughout. Set aside.


2. In a small frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute with thyme until fragrant. Stir in the parmesan and set aside. Heat a greased cast-iron grill pan over medium-high. Place the tomatoes cut side down and cook until grill marks appear, about 3-4 minutes. Flip tomatoes over and add parmesan and garlic mixture (reserve about 1-2 tsps on the side) on top of each half. Saute the mushrooms in the pan until cooked through. Turn the heat off.

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3. Place the asparagus on the upper rack of your oven and the cast-iron pan with the tomatoes on the lower rack. Bake the asparagus for 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned. Bake the tomatoes for 8-10 minutes or until the parmesan is completely melted and the tomatoes start to brown. Remove both from the oven when done. Your kitchen will smelly heavenly!

4. Season the tilapia filet with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence on each side. Place a nonstick frying pan over medium heat and add 2 tsps of olive oil. When the oil is heated through, add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and lemon juice. Fry the garlic for 45-60 seconds. Add the tilapia and then discard the garlic.  Cook on each side for about 3 minutes or until the fish is flaky.

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5. Now it’s time to put it all together! Add the asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes and tilapia. Pour the reserved garlic and thyme mixture over the top of the fish.  Garnish with parsley. Done!

IMAG0243 IMAG0246Try this out for Good Friday or any day that you want to make something quick and light with fish. I hope everyone has a Happy Easter! ♥


Recipe for tomatoes adapted from Proud Italian Cook’s, Garlic Grilled Tomatoes

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