Lemon Baked Fish With Garlic and Parsley Breadcrumbs

White fish fillets  breaded with herb, parsley and Parmesan breadcrumbs, then baked on a bed of lemon slices.

Happy Holidays my friends! I hope you are preparing for days filled with delicious food, family, friends. Above all I wish you a few moments of rest and relaxation in whichever way you like.

Christmas traditions in Umbria Italy

Christmas is Umbria is quiet and beautiful as usual. We stay away from the shopping craze. We try, as much as possible, to take a break from computer screen and internet. We take long walks in the villages and towns nearby to admire the simple festive decorations, Christmas markets and vitrines. The atmosphere is magical, especially in a gorgeous day like last Sunday in Gubbio.

Gubbio Hilltown inUmbria at Christmas Time

Because we are in the mountains, the Umbrian cuisine is mostly based on meat and vegetables, rather than on fish. For centuries this has been a problem as most fish was imported, expensive and – in pre refrigeration times – not of great quality.

In the Middle ages Christians were forbidden to consume meat for a full third of the year, so the lack of fish had a serious impact on everyday life. Even our large lake, the Trasimeno, could not provide enough fish to feed the population during periods of abstinence.

Umbria Trasimeno Lake near Passignano Sunset

It was so difficult that at a certain point water fowl was proclaimed “non meat” by law so people could eat some protein and not be chastised by the clerics.

Sometime you understand why Italians have a natural disposition at bending rules.

Things have obviously changed and fresh fish is available daily at the supermarket. However, local recipes tend to be conservative and extremely simple. The classic bread crusted baked fish is. a favorite both in families and restaurants.

This is my mother’s version of the recipe. She was Sicilian and complained all her life that she could never find fresh fish in Umbria. No wonder. She had grown up buying the day’s catch from the boats of fishermen just arrived at Messina’s harbor. Anything older than one hour out of the water was “not fresh”!

We, the mountain people, believed this was perfectly delicious. However, I suspect she added a most unusual sprinkle of cheese to the recipe to bring the results up to her standards. As you know cheese and fish don’t often combine in Italian cuisine.

In this case the small amount of Parmigiano is used only to add some Umami. The fish should not taste like there is cheese in it, it’s a secret.

This way we are safe with the “rules” and we don’t even need to alter the law.

Lemon baked fish with herb, parmesan and garlic bread crumbs


  • 1 kg/2 pounds whitefish fillets
  • 2 organic lemons cut into 0.5 cm / 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs or gluten-free equivalent
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and black pepper
  • extra-virgin olive oil, best quality

Preheat the oven to 200 C/ 400°F.

Season both sides of the fish fillets with a sprinkle of salt and black pepper. I quickly peel the lemons and reserve the peel for another use to avoid bitterness. This might not be a problem and it depends on the quality of lemons.

Place the lemon slices in a baking dish which must be big enough to hold the fish. Drizzle with 2 teaspoon olive oil. Place the fillets, skin-side down, in one layer over the lemon slices.

Umbrian style baked fish au gratin with breadcrumbs and garlic
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, Parmesan, a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 2-3 twists black pepper. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well, until the breadcrumbs look slightly moist adding more extra virgin olive oil if necessary.

I actually put all the bread crust ingredients in the food processor and have it ready and looking like gold dust in 1/2 minute.

Spoon the bread crumb mixture over of the fish fillets in a light, even layer. Make sure to cover the fish fillets completely to keep it moist while cooking.

Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake until the fish fillets are cooked through and the bread crumbs are golden. Make sure not to overcook it and burn the bread. The baking time will depend on the thickness and size of the fillets. Ten to 20 minutes.

freshwater fish baked with bread crumbs garlic parsley lemon

Serves 3-4

This recipe is used in Umbria for both freshwater and sea water white fish. The baked fish is always served as a secondo with seasonal side vegetables like for example garlic rapini in the winter, artichoke salad in the spring or a zucchini carpaccio in the summer. If you don’t have time for a primo, please don’t serve it over pasta or rice, that would not pair at all with the recipe. Roast potatoes and a green salad would be prefect instead.

And to finish….

If you have arrived all the way at the end of the article, you probably are among those who truly like to keep in touch with us and have good memories of your time spent here at Alla Madonna del Piatto.

During the holidays, when you finally crash on the sofa and can’t eat another crumb of panettone, please take a few minutes to support us and all your friends who have a small business.

Do write a review or recommendation online on your favorite website like TA, Google or Facebook. It does not have to be long, but a few lines and a high rating really does make a difference and keeps us going. It’s a very welcome gift and it only costs you 5 min! Thank you!

Buon Natale e Buon Capodanno, peace and love to you all!




  1. Hi Leti
    I’m inspired by your notes on how beautifully you spend the Christmas season and hopefully we will be in a Umbria for at least one Christmas season. Leaving at the end of November was difficult for me!
    Love you and wish you all the best
    Lynn…and Joe

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. My eyes tear up thinking about our time with you a few years ago. I love Umbtia and your lovely home! Remembering the fun we had cooking with you and the American students makes me so happy. I was so taken with your hospitality and kindness. We will meet again my friend. Merry Christmas and happy new year.

  3. Today on our National Public Radio, there was a story about the Italian Feast of Seven Fishes Holiday Dinner. The person interviewed was Italian American and talked about the tradition. She also talked about asking her relatives in Italy and finding out that it was purely an Italian AMERICAN tradition. Do you know anyone who celebrates this way for Christmas in Italia?

    • Hello Cinde, I know about the 7 fishes dinner but indeed it’s an Italian American tradition. I do know families who eat fish for Christmas Eve, but not or a specific number. In Umbria the main celebration takes place on Christmas day with a huge lunch, so Christmas Eve’s dinner is a simple event. Buon Natale!

  4. Letitzia, this sounds wonderful. I just dug up you recipe of pumpkin lasagne, will prepare it for Christmas inviting neighbors who are vegetarians. We’ll prepare the fish later. Happy holidays and have a wonderful new year. Willi an Marrianne

    On Tue, Dec 18, 2018 at 7:07 AM madonna del piatto wrote:

    > madonnadelpiatto posted: “Happy Holidays my friends! I hope you are > preparing for days filled with delicious food, family, friends. Above all I > wish you a few moments of rest and relaxation in whichever way you like. > Christmas is Umbria is quiet and beautiful as usual. We s” >

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