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Creamy Salmon Pasta

Make a delicious one pot pasta, bake salmon at the same time, add it to the skillet and voilà – healthy, creamy salmon pasta with just a few simple ingredients in 23 minutes.

This is a great way to stretch salmon for a perfect weeknight dinner. We’re using salmon, orzo, milk, broth, pesto, parmesan and baby spinach. Quick, easy and comforting.

creamy salmon pasta in bowl

It would make a lovely date night meal or valentine’s day dinner too. Pink, get it? 🙂 Replace the salmon with shrimp if you like.

Bottom line: If you are looking for moist, tender salmon, good nutrition, yummy flavorful saucy pasta and the ability to adapt the recipe as you like, give this creamy salmon pasta recipe a try.

What to expect

Versatile flavors: This pasta recipe with salmon is very adaptable. It’s easy to change the seasonings, veggies and flavors to suit your preferences. You can even substitute the salmon!

Less steps – the pasta and sauce are cooked together in one pot unlike other similar recipes. Since you’re cooking the creamy pasta and the salmon at the same time (but separately), dinner comes together quickly.

Healthier than it looks: The dish feels rich and creamy, but it’s not as high in calories and fat as you might think. Most similar recipes use heavy cream. We don’t.

Ingredients – tailored to your taste

salmon fillets, orzo, pesto, milk, broth, baby spinach, seasoning, parmesan, salt, pepper
salmon fillets, orzo, pesto, milk, broth, baby spinach, seasoning, parmesan, salt, pepper

Salmon: Buy salmon that is moist and not fishy smelling. Try to get pieces that are the same thickness so they cook at the same rate. Frozen salmon (thawed) is just as nutritious as fresh salmon. If you’re not a salmon fan, try halibut, cod or hake. Even cooked shrimp, chicken or sausages will work.

Salmon seasoning options: Use the flavors or rub you like best or have on hand. Here are a few options. I drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on the fish before seasoning.

  • Basic – salt, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice
  • BBQ seasoning or rub (as pictured) – e.g. cumin, smoked paprika, sugar, salt, garlic and onion powder, allspice, thyme
  • Mexican style – use fajita seasoning
  • Mediterranean-style – oregano, lemon zest, garlic salt and pepper. Or Italian seasoning.
  • Cajun seasoning

Pasta: I love orzo in this dish, but any small pasta like baby bowties will work. Adjust the cooking time as needed until the pasta is tender. The orzo in the creamy sauce almost have a risotto texture.

Cheese: I use grated Parmesan cheese. If you want to cut calories, try a lower fat version.

Liquids – rich or light? I use 2% milk, but you can use any combination of milk from skim (0% fat) to half and half (10%) depending on how rich you want the sauce. For the broth, use a boxed vegetable broth or combine a bouillon paste like ‘better than bouillon’ with water.

Pesto: Use your favorite kind. I like spicy cilantro pesto or basil pesto. If you don’t have any or don’t like pesto, leave it out or substitute it with a handful of chopped fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, chives or dill.

Add-in options: I always use baby spinach in this salmon pasta recipe for the color and nutrition. If you like, you can sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes before starting the recipe. You can also add asparagus pieces or snap peas part way through cooking the orzo.

Step by step instructions

milk, broth and orzo boiling in skillet
Start by bringing the broth and milk to a boil. Add orzo and cook at a lower boil for 8-10 minutes until orzo is tender. The liquid will not all be absorbed.

While the orzo is cooking, sprinkle the salmon with seasoning and bake for 10-12 minutes. Don’t overcook.

orzo, cream sauce and spinach cooked in skillet
Add the Parmesan, pesto and spinach to the orzo and stir to combine. Sauce will begin to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pasta will thicken more in a few minutes.
cut up cooked salmon placed over creamy orzo
Flake the salmon into bite size pieces and add to the pasta. Squeeze lemon juice on if you like and serve.
creamy salmon pasta in bowl
Dig into your delicious creamy salmon pasta!
forkful of salmon orzo pasta and spinach over bowl

Tips

1. Don’t overcook the salmon.
2. Don’t worry if the orzo seems to have too much liquid when cooked. The pasta sauce will thicken up with added ingredients and standing.

Shortcut

Skip the salmon altogether and just make the parmesan orzo with spinach. This option is cheaper of course (without the salmon), vegetarian and little quicker. It’s one of Jenna’s favorite meals.

Make Ahead and Store

Cook the pasta (not the full recipe) a few hours or a day ahead. I suggest making the salmon just before serving it as it’s best when served fresh.

Store leftover salmon with the pasta in an airtight container for 2-3 days. Gently reheat it on the stove over medium low heat, adding a bit of broth or water to loosen it up.

It’s safe to freeze the dish, but I don’t really suggest that as the textures will change the salmon will dry out when reheated.

Recipe FAQs

Is salmon healthy?

Yes. Healthline says salmon is a nutritional powerhouse that provides several health benefits and that at least two servings per week can help you meet your nutrient needs and reduce the risk of several diseases.

How much salmon do I need per serving?

A healthy portion is considered to be 3-4 ounces (85-113g), but most adults will eat 6-8 ounces (170-227g). Since we are bulking up this dish with pasta, a cream sauce and veggies, a smaller portion is perfect.

How can I tell when salmon is cooked?

The rule of thumb for juicy salmon cook time is 10 minutes per inch (2.5cm) of thickness. If you peek in with a knife, it should separate easily and still be warm pink inside (not dry and flaky white). It’s ready when it is just turning opaque. The best internal temperature with an instant read thermometer is 130-135F (54.4-57.2C). The temperature will rise a bit with a 5 minute rest.

Is frozen or fresh spinach better?

Actually, frozen spinach is healthier as it retains nutrients better than fresh spinach. And frozen spinach will last months in the freezer.

How do I substitute frozen spinach for fresh spinach?

A 10 ounce package of frozen spinach is equivalent to 1 1/2 cups cooked/drained spinach and makes about 4 servings. For this recipe, use a bit more than half a package or about 1 cup/300 grams defrosted spinach.

What to serve with this pasta salmon recipe

Because we’re including a fair amount of spinach in the recipe, you can serve the creamy salmon pasta on its own. Or perhaps with some garlic bread or cheddar biscuits.

To round out the meal, serve a side salad like a citrus salad with greens or a nice soup such as curried lentil soup (instant pot or stovetop) or easy tomato soup with canned tomatoes

forkful of salmon orzo pasta and spinach over bowl

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creamy salmon pasta in bowl
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Creamy Salmon Pasta

Make a delicious one pot pasta, bake salmon at the same time, add it to the skillet and voilà – healthy, creamy salmon pasta with just a few fresh ingredients in 23 minutes.
Prep Time6 mins
Cook Time17 mins
Total Time23 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 or 3 large portions
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Salmon

  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon fillets, skin on or off, Note 1
  • 1 tablespoon seasoning rub, Note 2 or a bit more if needed

Pasta and Sauce

  • 3 cups broth vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk,, Note 3
  • 1 cup orzo or other small pasta
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach, packed, roughly chopped, Note 4 (6-7 good handfuls – about 6 oz)
  • 1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons pesto or more to taste, Note 5
  • salt and black pepper to taste amount of salt will depend on saltiness of broth
  • Optional garnish: extra Parmesan, fresh parsley, lemon juice or lemon zest

Instructions

  • HEAT OVEN or toaster oven to 425F/218C. Line a pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray.
  • COOK ORZO: In medium or large skillet (Note 7), bring 3 cups broth and 1 cup milk to a boil. Stir in orzo. Lower heat to medium-high heat or medium heat (liquids should be gently boiling). Stir, uncovered, for about 8-9 minutes or until orzo is al dente or however tender you like it. The orzo will still have lots of liquid in the pan – don't worry – it will thicken up. TIP: Stir occasionally so that orzo doesn't stick to pan.
  • BAKE SALMON: While orzo is cooking, season salmon generously with your preferred seasoning, Note 2. Place on prepared pan, skin side down if salmon has skin) and bake for 10-12 minutes until warm pink or just opaque inside. Don't overcook or it will be dry. The internal temperature with an instant read thermometer will read 125F-130F (52-54C). Temp will rise with resting. Tip: Rule of thumb is to cook salmon 10 minutes per 1 inch/2.5 cm thickness.
  • FINISH CREAMY PASTA: Lower heat on pasta to medium low. Add chopped spinach, Parmesan and pesto. Stir until well until combined and spinach is wilted and pasta sauce thickens, about 2-3 minutes. If too thick, add more broth to the consistency you prefer. If too thin, cook a bit longer or add more Parmesan (it will continue to thicken when sitting). Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add additional pesto and Parmesan if you like.
  • ASSEMBLE: Peel off skin of salmon if your salmon has skin. Break salmon into small pieces and place over pasta. Serve in skillet or divide onto plates or bowls with extra Parmesan on the side, a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest or a sprinkle of parsley. I like to sprinkle on a touch of sea salt too.

Notes

  1. Salmon options: halibut, cod or hake. Even cooked shrimp, chicken or sausages will work. 
  2. Salmon seasoning options: Use the flavors or rub you like or have on hand. Here are a few options. I drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on the fish before seasoning.
    • Basic – salt, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice
    • BBQ seasoning or rub (as pictured) – e.g. cumin, smoked paprika, sugar, salt, garlic and onion powder, allspice, thyme
    • Mexican style – use fajita seasoning
    • Mediterranean-style – oregano, lemon zest, garlic salt and pepper. Or Italian seasoning.
    • Middle eastern style – try za’atar
    • Cajun seasoning or Old Bay seasoning
    • Make it spicy with red pepper flakes if you like (e.g. 1/4-1/2 teaspoon.
  3. Milk options for pasta sauce: I use mostly 2% with a splash of half and half cream. Alternatively, use whole milk to make it richer, no fat milk for extra light or any combination. 
  4. Substitute with frozen spinach if you prefer. Use about 6 ounces or 1 cup/300 grams thawed and well drained spinach. 
  5. Pesto options: I like spicy cilantro pesto or basil pesto. If you don’t have any or don’t like pesto, leave it out or substitute it with a handful of chopped herbs like fresh parsley, cilantro, chives, fresh basil or fresh dill.
  6. Add in options for pasta: If you like, you can sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes before starting the recipe. You can also add asparagus pieces or snap peas part way through cooking the orzo.
  7. Skillet size affects cooking time: Cooking time will vary a bit depending on the type of skillet you use and if you double the recipe. The orzo will cook quicker in a larger, flatter skillet. You may need to add more liquid or cook the orzo longer. The recipe is very forgiving, though, so don’t worry. Just add more broth or milk as needed or increase/decrease the heat as needed. 
  8. Make Ahead: 
    • Cook the pasta (not the full recipe) a few hours or a day ahead. I suggest making the salmon just before serving it as it’s best when served fresh.
    • Store leftover salmon with the pasta in an airtight container for 2-3 days. Gently reheat it on the stove over medium low heat, adding a bit of broth or water to loosen it up.
    • It’s safe to freeze the dish, but I don’t really suggest it as the textures will change and the salmon will dry out when reheated. 
 
Nutrition values are estimates for 1/4 of the full recipe not including extra garnishes.

Nutrition

Calories: 488kcal | Carbohydrates: 38g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 94mg | Sodium: 1448mg | Potassium: 1142mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 5073IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 279mg | Iron: 3mg
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