I am a little bit obsessed with Sicilian cuisine, I admit. Having frequently visited it in the past year, I’m constantly drooling over the traditional dishes: fresh, rich and hearty, but most of all full of aromas and usual flavors.
One of the dishes I deeply fell for while visiting was Busiate con pesto alla Trapanesi. It is a simple, but uniquely blended pasta dish from the Trapani province in northwest Sicily.
It is said that the dish originated from pesto alla Genovese that was brought by merchants passing through port of Trapani. Sicilians have adapted the idea, using the local ingredients, more precisely almonds instead of pine nuts and tomatoes of course: making a dish full of fresh and nutty flavors that became a staple of Trapani area cuisine and today can be found in almost every restaurant.
Traditionally, this pesto is to be served cold, though occasionally you may come across a place or two (especially in the winter months) where you’ll get it served warm. Having tasted both, I would probably go for the cold version, which is much more fresh and full of flavors.
Another thing worth mentioning is Busiate, the pasta used in this dish. It is made from durum wheat with water (no eggs) and twisted around its angle, resembling stretched fusilli and are very specific to Trapani area. Busiate would probably be difficult to find outside Sicily (at least I haven’t seen it anywhere), but they can easily be replaced with any other types of eggless pasta. Other than that, this dish is a piece of cake to make, though mind you it’s a bit high on the garlic content (do consider that if you’re thinking of a romantic dinner…)
250g busiate or any other type of pasta
4 ripe tomatoes
a good handful of fresh basil about 20 leaves
2 garlic cloves
40g pecorino cheese
salt and freshly grounded pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Process: If your almonds are with skin, start by peeling them. To peel, blanche the almonds by adding them to the boiling water for 1 minute, drain and wash with cold water. Dry with paper towels and most of the skins will come of immediately. For the rest, taking one at a time pinch the almond on the end and it will come off.
Next, toast the almonds for a few minutes in a non-stick pan, this will bring out their aroma and sharpen the taste.
In a pestle mortar crush the garlic with some salt, add the almonds and basil and continue to crush till you are happy with the texture adding olive as needed, season with pepper and with extra salt if missing.
To peel the tomatoes, make a shallow X on the bottom and dip them in boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Then quickly take them out to a bowl of ice water to prevent further cooking. Drain, peel, core, take the seeds out and chop the flesh. The tomato flesh could be blended in a blender but the pesto should not be added. If all crushed in a blender, well let me just tell you it will not look pretty.
Then gently mix the tomatoes with pesto and grated pecorino, adjust the seasoning.
Boil the pasta till “al dente” and serve with some fresh pesto alla Trapanese on top.