Serving size: 4-6, depending on how you use the pesto
Pesto alla Trapanese developed in Trapani, a city on Sicily’s west coast. Trapani cuts the Mediterranean like a scythe cuts wheat and boasts bountiful fish markets, hills dotted with almond trees, and salt marshes that stretch to the sea. I have dreamed of visiting this town since I was a knee-high and stood on tiptoes to watch my Grandma Sgarlat stir her magic pots on the stove. As children my great grandparents, the Saporitos, roamed land inland from this seaside town. In my dreams the stark blue of the Mediterranean suddenly hits brilliant salt hills as I sit on a salt-blanched cliff and eat grilled swordfish lathered in pesto alla Trapanese.
Most pesto contains cheese, but with this version of pesto alla Trapanese roasted almonds’ richness supplants the cheese’s fatty mouth feel. Rather than blend together the ingredients, by peeling and then roughly chopping the tomatoes their distinct tang and texture matches rather than absorbs the roasted almonds’ flavor. A touch of lemon zest brightens and adds extra cancer fighting flavonoids (Lai et al.) to the pesto.
Versatile in its application, this pesto can act as a pasta sauce, dip for crostini, or topping for roasted chicken, fish, lamb, or beef.
1 cup almonds, roasted and finely chopped
1½ cups skinned and deseeded fresh tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
salt, to taste (this pesto requires a generous amount of salt)
Optional ingredient: two anchovy filets, mortared into a paste
1. Prepare the tomatoes. To skin the tomatoes, bring a pot of salted water to boil. Make on X on the bottom of the tomatoes with your knife (just enough to pierce the skin) and cut the core out. Submerge the tomatoes in the hot water for just under a minute, and then pull them out of the hot water to shock them in salted ice-cold water. In about one-two minutes, the tomatoes should be cool enough to handle. Pull the skin off, and place the tomatoes on a cutting board. Cut each tomato in half, and gently squeeze each half over the sink to release the seeds. There will be a few seeds still clinging to the flesh, but most will be removed. After the seeds and skins are removed, roughly chop the tomatoes.
2. Place the crushed garlic, lemon zest, and salt into the chopped tomatoes. If you like anchovies, stir the anchovy paste into the tomato mix. Allow this mixture to sit for 20 minutes as you prepare the almond base.
3. Place the roasted almonds in a food processor and process until the nuts are finely chopped (not too roughly chopped and not paste-like, but so small bits of the nuts are still visible).
4. Stir the olive oil and roasted almond base into the tomato, lemon zest, and garlic mixture.
5. Finely slice the basil leaves and gently fold them into the pesto.
6. Serve. This pesto is best used within a few hours. I have refrigerated the pesto for up to two days and used it in various dishes, and it tasted fine, but the brightness and distinctness of each ingredient mellows as it sits in the refrigerator.
Lai, et al. “Potent Anti-cancer Effects of Citrus Peel Flavonoids in Human Prostate Xenograft Tumors.” Food & Function, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 05 Sept. 2015.
Lo Verde, Ignazio. "Salt and Windmills." Best of Sicily Magazine. n.d. Web. 05 Sept. 2015.