Penne with Pesto Trapanese - A Sicilian Recipe
While basil pesto is the most well known pesto, every region in Italy makes pesto with freshly available local produce. According to Lidia Bastianich, the Italian cuisine expert, the word pesto comes from the verb 'pestare', which means 'to mash'. This means you can pretty much mash up any fresh ingredients to make a pesto, and toss it along with pasta, vegetables or chicken and you have a dish ready right there.
I've experimented with rocket-walnut pesto, spinach-peanut pesto and even one with sun-dried tomatoes. But this recipe is as authentic as it gets. Pesto Trapanese hails from Trapani in Sicily, which is known for its tomatoes and almonds.
To quote from Wikipedia:
It (Pesto Trapanese) is an ancient dish: the port of Trapani stopped the Genoese ships, from the East, that brought the tradition of garlic sauce from Liguria, based on garlic and walnuts, which was developed by sailors in Trapani with products their land, tomato and almonds
I love this bit of history behind this sauce, combining the best of two regions in one dish. It also works in my favour as I am fast trying to rescue the tomatoes ripening on the vine in my kitchen garden, from squirrels and other sundry pests. What better way to put them to use than in a beautiful and unusual pesto!
This is pretty much a kitchen garden pesto for me, except for the almonds of course.
In this recipe, the pasta is tossed in Pesto Trapanese (tomato-almond-basil pesto) and is garnished with a poor man's Parmesan cheese.
And guess what that is!
Toasted bread crumbs, which not only look like cheese but have this extra crunch to the pasta dish.
A few tips to cook pasta right:
- Cook in plenty of water so the pasta has enough space to swim around and not stick to each other.
- The water should be adequately salted, it should taste like the sea water, is what the Italians say.
- Do not add any oil to the water to cook pasta or the sauce will not stick to it.
- Do not overcook the pasta, it should have a bite to it - i.e. al dente.
RECIPE FOR Penne Con Il Pesto Trapaenese | Penne in Pesto Trapanese
Large pot to boil pasta
Medium pot to blanche tomatoes
Food processor or large mortar pestle
Convection oven or Skillet or Microwave oven
Penne Pesto Trapanese
- Peel off the skins from the blanched almonds. In a preheated oven (180C) or on a skillet on low flame, allow them to toast for 5-10 minutes until lightly golden. You can also toast them in a microwave oven for 3-4 minutes until golden.
- Cook the Penne pasta for the time mentioned on the packet, in this case 9-11 minutes. Drain and keep aside, reserving some of the pasta water.
- Bring a pan of water to boil. Make cross cuts on the base of the tomatoes and gently put them into boiling water for 2 minutes. Blanch them in cold water for a minute and peel off skins. Quarter the tomatoes, scoop out seeds, chop roughly and keep aside.
- To make the pesto, in a large mortar and pestle or a food processor, mash/process the basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and salt until smooth and creamy. To this add the almonds and mash / process until you get a smooth paste. Add the chopped tomatoes at this stage and mash / process until you get a chunky sauce. Add any leftover extra virgin olive oil and process until it forms a creamy sauce.
- Toss the cooked pasta in this sauce. (thin down with some pasta water if you like it that way)
- Garnish with some fresh basil, halved cherry tomatoes and toasted breadcrumbs and serve immediately.
Pesto Trapanese can be stored in an air tight container in the fridge (pour a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil on the top) for a week or so. You can also use this sauce to coat grilled vegetables and grains to make a salad.
*To make toasted breadcrumbs, tear 2 slices of bread roughly, add to food processor with a spoonful of olive oil and herbs, until you get crumbs. Transfer to a lined baking tray, spread out and bake for 3-4 minutes until golden in a 180C preheated oven. You can do this while toasting the almonds but make sure you keep an eye on them as they burn very quickly.
Sneaking in almonds into this pesto is a perfect way to add a boost of health to a pasta dish for my kid, who otherwise dislikes most nuts. It's also the best pesto to make when you have just a few sprigs of basil growing in your kitchen garden, and you want to put them to use.
The pasta in Pesto Trapenese is full of the flavour of basil and tomatoes, with background flavours of the toasted almonds. Use the best tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil you can find, and try out this utterly simple, fully authentic yet unusual pasta recipe and wow your family and friends.