Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pesto alla trapanese

On holiday at friends' house in southern Tuscany, a Palermitan friend there made an exquisite Sicilian dish one evening, a pesto that has little to do with Ligurian pesto other than the abundant use of basil, and perhaps not so much to do with Trapani, though of that I am not sure, since another key ingredient is ground almond. The friend was rather reluctant to let me stay in the kitchen, and dislikes sharing recipes because he believes, perhaps rightly, that each recipe is unalienably personal insofar as it cannot be repeated exactly by two people; so I hope I don't betray any secrets by conveying the recipe anyway. But the result was so utterly delicious, it is irresistible. I tried to repeat what I had seen and tasted a few nights later, at my in-laws' near Viterbo - and, in fact, pace our friend, I succeeded.

So: take a large bunch of excellent cherry tomatoes (in Tuscany, we picked all the tomatoes left in the garden - luckily, in fact, since a massive storm hit us that night - so that made a difference, they were so dense and sweet) and a large bunch of basil. Thinly grind a good handful of almonds. Parboil the tomatoes for a few minutes, then drop them in cold water, drain them, put them in a bowl, crush them a little. In a mixer, grind the basil with about a cup of virgin olive oil, at least, until you get a dark green mush. Mix the mush into the tomatoes. Take a deep saucepan, heat some more olive oil. Transfer to it the tomato and basil mush, add some salt, crush the tomatoes a little more, and cook over a high flame for about two minutes. Add the ground almonds, and lower the flame. Cook for another 15-20mn, stirring and crushing as needed. About two minutes before you're done, add a good handful or two of grated or ground parmesan. In the meantime, you'll have cooked pasta - fusilli, spaghetti, or even short pasta, it seems to work with everything - until al dente. Drain it, cook it in the sauce for a short minute over a high flame, and serve. You can add parmesan on the plate.