There’s a good chance that at least one dinner during the week will be pasta of some sort. It’s quick, satisfying and doesn’t take much preparation. I have a few standard sauces that I make on rotation, ones that require very little cooking or thought. One of those is pesto – it’s extremely versatile and always full of flavour and texture.
When we think of pesto, usually we’re talking about the one made with pine nuts, basil and parmesan. That particular pesto is from Genova and consequently called Pesto Genovese. While it’s probably the most famous one, it’s not the only pesto out there! Pesto is simply just something that is crushed, ground or pounded (coming from the Italian verb pestare meaning exactly that, to crush, grind or pound). When you know that, I think it gives you a lot of freedom. I make pesto with walnuts, parsley, pistachios, mint – whatever I have that will work, I will use.
One of my absolute favourite kinds of pesto to make is this one – pesto Trapanese, hailing from Trapani in Sicily. It’s a Summer staple in our house for its freshness and ease. As a bonus, it’s a great way to use up any over-ripe tomatoes laying around in the fruit bowl (keep your tomatoes on the bench and not in the fridge by the way)!
Traditionally this pesto is paired with a spiralled pasta shape called Busiate but it’s almost impossible to find here in Melbourne. I’ve looked everywhere, so if you find it, do let me know! So unless you’re making it from scratch, which is fun to do but more of a weekend project, any spiral shape is completely acceptable. In fact, I’ve used many different shapes and they’re all delicious.
I make my pesto in a mortar and pestle. It truly takes only five or so minutes and in my opinion, gives much better results. It can, of course, be made in a food processor though. Just use the pulse button to avoid making it too smooth, it should still have some texture. There’s no need to add each ingredient separately as I suggest for the mortar and pestle, just throw it all in then drizzle in the oil at the end. Sometimes if I don’t have any basil, I’ll substitute it with mint, which works superbly here too.
Ingredients (serves 4)
6 ripe Roma tomatoes
70g blanched almonds, lightly toasted
Large handful of basil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
Sea salt, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
100g breadcrumbs (I make mine from day-old bread, simply whizzed up in the food processor)
320g pasta of your choice
Cut a cross at the base of each tomato and blanch in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute. When cool enough to handle peel the tomatoes and remove the core. Halve each tomato and scrape out the seeds (I keep the seeds to add to soups or sauces, you won’t need them for this dish). Roughly chop the flesh and set aside.
In a mortar and pestle, add the almonds and pound well. Add in the basil and continue to pound so that the almonds and basil form a coarse paste. Now put in the garlic along with a large pinch of salt, this will help the garlic to break down more easily. Continue to crush the garlic into the basil and almonds. It should be smelling heavenly at this point. Once you are happy with the texture, tumble in the chopped tomato and gently pound and incorporate it into the pesto. I like my pesto rather chunky but you can crush it as smooth as you like. Now drizzle in enough olive oil into the mortar ’til you have a thick but spoonable pesto. Check for seasoning, adding more salt if needed, transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Instead of parmesan, we’re going to top the pasta with crunchy breadcrumbs or ‘poor man’s parmesan’, as it’s often called. Simply heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the fresh breadcrumbs into the pan and stir to coat, continuing to cook until golden and crunchy. Season with sea salt and set aside.
Cook the pasta in a pot of generously salted water til al dente, according to the instructions on the packet. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta into the bowl with the pesto and stir so that everything is well coated. If it is too dry, add a little of the reserved cooking liquid. Serve with a generous scattering of the toasted breadcrumbs