Late last year I was fortunate enough to attend a cooking demonstration by the rather lovely chef & food writer Rachel Roddy at the brilliant Divertimenti Cooking School on Brompton Road in London.
Among several evocative dishes cooked by Rachel, all of which transported me to sunnier Italian climes, one stood out as being an arguably perfect plate of pasta. So delicious was it that it’s been recreated in my own Islington-rather-than-Italy kitchen with great success – I feel it’s ok to modestly give it that label since bowls were left empty at the end of dinner so no further evidence needed, si? Grazi.
This version of the universally loved basil & pine nut pesto, comes from Trapani, a coastal town in Sicily, and while it keeps keeps the velvety, emerald basil, it substitutes almonds for the pine nuts and adds ripe tomatoes for something that becomes lighter and more summery in its flavour and appearance.
You can’t get much
lazier easier when it comes to cooking than being asked to throw everything into a food processor, something I make no apologies for. If you feel like channeling your inner Nonna and getting busy with the old pestle & mortar, go right ahead but for a speedy – vegan if you replace the cheese with a dairy-free version – supper that will carry you to the continent in minutes, it’s got to be 21st century hardware all the way.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
- 50g skinned almonds
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic depending on your taste
- 35 tender basil leaves, washed & dried
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 50g parmesan or pecorino (or a mix of both) – this is optional
- Sea salt
- 3 medium-sized tomatoes
- 450g of the pasta of your choosing
- In a food processor, pulse the almonds and garlic into a fine flour.
- Add the basil leaves along with the olive oil and mix until you have a creamy consistency.
- Turn off the machine and stir the cheese into the mixture by hand if you are adding it then taste, add a pinch of salt if necessary and set aside.
- Peel the tomatoes by putting them into a bowl of boiling water for 60 seconds before carefully removing with a slotted spoon and placing in a bowl of iced water for 30 seconds; you should find the skins slip off easily.
- Cut the tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds, remove any hard central core and roughly chop them.
- Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil and cook the pasta to your liking – a touch al dente is always better in my opinion.
- While your pasta cooks, mix the tomatoes and pesto in a large serving bowl then drain the pasta – keep some of the cooking water – and mix with the pesto.
- Add a little of the cooking water to loosen the pasta if you feel it is necessary then serve immediately with additional cheese if desired.
This version is adapted from Rachel’s recipe which was, in turn, adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Siciliana by Maria Teresa di Marco e Marie Cecile Ferrè