Category: Pasta

Two Unique Pasta Sauces

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The focus of my blog has been, for the most part, about good fresh food, healthy eating, and a concentration on home-cooked meals instead of dishes reinterpreted by the celebrity chef class.

That said, one of the most accessible meals, which is quick and easy to prepare, and just plain good, is pasta. Everyone enjoys a dish of pasta from time to time, and in my home we enjoy it often.

What makes pasta so interesting for me is the variety of shapes, textures, and sizes, along with the many different ways to sauce and present it. I could argue that if you ate pasta just once a week for a year it would never be boring since you wouldn’t have to duplicate a dish—that’s part of the fun for me in cooking and eating pasta in the first place.

Now I would think it is safe to say that we all have a favorite pasta shape and sauce, especially tomato-based sauces and hearty ragus. Rather than focus on those, I want to share recipes for two sauces that are less well known–although can be prepared quickly using ingredients found in most home pantries–and delicious served on pasta or enjoyed in other ways as well.

The first recipe has its origin in the provincial city of Trapani, located on the west coast of Sicily. It is characterized as a pesto, but don’t think of the Ligurian classic made with basil, garlic, and pine cuts from the city of Genoa, (reference blog post; Pesto—October 23, 2014).

Pesto alla Trapanese is an uncooked sauce, essentially comprised of tomato, herbs, and almonds. There are many interpretations of this sauce, some of which include celery leaves, fried eggplant, Nubia garlic (from Trapani), and pepperoncino flakes.

Aside from the Nubia garlic that would be difficult to source here, I would prepare this pesto using tomato, garlic, and an herb mix of parsley, celery leaves, basil, and mint, along with the almonds and olive oil.

The sauce is best made in the late summer when the tomatoes and herbs are at their peak; however breaking with tradition somewhat in the middle of winter, the recipe I am sharing is one I prepared with plump, reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes.

Since this pesto is not cooked, it benefits from a little resting time at room temperature to macerate before tossing with the pasta.

This sauce is traditionally served over busiate, a long spiral-shaped pasta. If you cannot source the busiate (or busiata), then fusilli, linguini, or farfalle would be good substitutes.

Busiate pasta

The dish is sometimes finished with ricotta, shaved ricotta salata, or an aged pecorino. It also works well as an accompaniment to pan-seared pork loin chops or a flaky roasted fish filet, used in place of a salsa verde, for example.

This recipe yields enough pesto for a pound of cooked pasta, which is plenty to serve 4 people.


Pesto alla Trapanese

4 whole sun-dried tomatoes (or 4 ripe, fresh, plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped)
1 to 2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup whole almonds, toasted
3 to 4 cups (loosely packed) of a fresh herb mix of parsley, celery leaves, basil, mint
½ to ¾ cup olive oil (or as needed)
Ricotta or ricotta salata to finish

Soften the tomatoes slightly in warm water, then drain well.

Toast the almonds in a dry sauté pan on the stovetop or bake in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes. Cool completely before using.

Using only the leaves from the fresh herb mix, measure out the volume needed.

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, almonds, and herbs in the work bowl of the food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are chopped and thoroughly mixed. Then run the processor on high speed while slowly drizzling the olive oil down the feed tube until the pesto is finely ground but not a completely smooth paste.

Cook the pasta al dente or to your liking, toss with the pesto, plate, and if using, shave the ricotta salata on top.

Using either the sun-dried or the fresh tomatoes, the finished sauce will be herbaceous and assertive. With the sun-dried tomatoes, the texture will be coarser, the color will be darker, and the finished sauce will have an understated sweetness. While with the fresh tomatoes, the finished sauce will be smoother, a little lighter, and have a pronounced tomato flavor. Both are delicious!

Busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese

There is not much written about the next sauce, known as Foriana. What I learned just two years ago came by reading information shared by Eugenia Bone, the author, often published food writer, experienced cook, blogger, and more recently a mycologist. In fact, it was a recipe her father, Ed Giobbi, an accomplished well-regarded cook and author himself, passed along to her.

As the story goes, Foriana can be traced to the island of Ischia located in the Mediterranean off the coast of Naples. It is comprised of a mix of rustic ingredients popular in the cooking of that region and has that characteristic sweet-savory-spicy personality that I very much enjoy. Traditionally it is served over pasta during the Lenten season but it can also be a good stand-in for a salsa verde for example, when used to top a grilled porterhouse pork chop, on some braised dishes, seafood stews, and as a topping for crostini.

Oregano is a key ingredient in the preparation of the sauce. The first time I made the sauce was in the summer months, so I tried fresh oregano from my small herb garden. However, the next time I prepared the sauce I used dry oregano and must say that the dry herb makes a more flavorful sauce. Oregano is one of the few herbs that hold its flavor when dried, while most other herbs fade rapidly over time after drying.

The sauce stores well, up to a week in the refrigerator when topped with olive oil or in the freezer for up to 6 months. My adaptation of the recipe follows:


Sauce Foriana

1 cup each of walnuts and pine nuts
5 large garlic gloves, chopped
½ cup golden raisins
3 teaspoons dried oregano
Olive oil

Lightly toast the walnuts and pine nuts separately in a dry sauté pan on the stovetop.

Place the toasted nuts, garlic, and oregano in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped and thoroughly combined.

Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the nut mix, the raisins, and season with salt and pepper. Stir the sauce often to combine with the oil and to avoid sticking to the pan and burning. Cook for approximately 5 minutes to allow the sauce to heat through, and add more olive oil if it appears too dry.

Cook whatever pasta you are serving, as Foriana pairs well with most pasta shapes. When ready, I toss the cooked pasta (1/2 pound to 1 cup of sauce) with approximately 3 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water, plate, and top with freshly grated aged pecorino and finely minced parsley or fresh oregano.

Ready to toss with pasta

Busiate with Pesto alla Trapanese

Now you have two quick and easy ways to sauce and enjoy your next pasta meal. So pour yourself a glass of wine, select some music to accompany, relax, cook, and enjoy.

“For you know one must be inspired to cook. Therefore, we always learn from others and end up teaching ourselves.” James Beard





Ramps, Not Wild Leeks!

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As I wrote in an earlier post, ramps are one of the first of the spring vegetables to emerge once the winter frost has ended. Their season is short they emerge in late April and are essentially gone by mid-June.

Ramps are often called wild leeks or spring onions, which they are not. Part of the Allium genus, ramps are foraged in the wild and are considered an all-American vegetable.

The long slender bulb resembles that of a scallion (green onion) but is slightly more pungent. They can be cooked whole including the green top leaves and the bulbs lend themselves well to pickling.

The green top leaves can be eaten raw in salads, incorporated into pesto, risotto, gratins, sautés, and folded into gnocchi and or even biscuit dough.

So with adding ramps to my spring recipe ingredients list, the following are three of the many ways ramps can be prepared—a ramp greens pesto, pickled ramp bulbs, and ramp gnocchi sauced with sage butter and fresh English peas.

Ramps—pickled, pesto

Ramps—pickled, pesto


Ramp Leaf Pesto

30 to 40 top greens, bulb cut off and reserved for pickling
2 to 3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
¼ preserved lemon rind, finely minced
1 tablespoon roasted garlic puree (garlic jam)
½ cup parsley leaves and tender stems, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash all the green top leaves to remove any dirt and grit, blanch 5 to 7 minutes in boiling water, drain and rinse in cold water, then thoroughly dry. Roughly chop the blanched leaves and place in the work bowl of a food processor.

To the work bowl add the toasted pine nuts, preserved lemon, garlic jam, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Pulse a few times to chop the pine nuts and combine all the ingredients. Scrape down the sides and spin the processor again while slowly pouring the olive oil into the feed tube. Once a uniform emulsion forms, scrape down the sides again, check and correct the seasoning, and run once more, adding additional olive oil to finish the pesto to a smooth puree.

Just to note some examples: the pesto can be used immediately to sauce pasta, or flavor and color risotto. It can also be a topping for crostini when paired with ricotta, with cannellini beans, with shaved asparagus, or with paper-thin slices of pickled cucumber as a base for a white anchovy (boquerones).

Burrata topped with ramp pesto

Burrata topped with ramp pesto

This pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a week topped by olive oil, or frozen for up to six months.


Pickled Ramp Bulbs

Bulbs removed from 2 pounds ramps, washed and trimmed of the root cluster
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
6 to 10 allspice berries, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes or other
4 to 5 bay leaves
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 cup white vinegar or white wine vinegar

Blanch the cleaned ramp bulbs for 1 to 2 minutes in boiling water, drain and set aside.

In a small sauté pan, toast the spice mix except for the chili flakes and bay leaves. Wrap and tie the toasted spice mix in cheesecloth as a sachet.

Place the blanched ramp bulbs and the toasted spice mix sachet along with the remaining four ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently until the ramp bulbs are tender but not too soft.

Drain the sauce pan, discarding the sachet and bay leaves, and reserving the liquid. Place the ramp bulbs in a sterilized jar, pouring the pickling liquid over to cover. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator indefinitely, similar to most any other jarred pickle.

These ramps pair well with both cheese or charcuterie, most grilled or braised dishes, as well as smoked meats or seafood.


Ramp Gnocchi Sauced with Sage, Butter, and Fresh English Peas

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole-milk ricotta, drained well
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano or Pecorino
½ cup blanched and finely chopped ramp top leaves (approximately 30 leaves)
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt and pepper
All-purpose flour for dusting the work surface and semolina flour for staging the gnocchi before cooking

2 cups English peas, fresh or frozen (if frozen, don’t thaw)
6 to 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
15 to 18 fresh sage leaves, minced
Salt and pepper
¼ cup grated ricotta salata to serve

Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil (same water the gnocchi will be cooked in), and blanch the ramp top leaves for 1 to 2 minutes, drain well, dry, and finely chop. Reduce the heat so the water just simmers.

In a large bowl or the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, ricotta, the grated cheese, prepared ramp leaves, eggs, and salt and pepper. Mix with your hands, or pulse in the processor just until the dough combines into a wet, slightly sticky ball.

Generously flour the work surface and place the dough on top, then sprinkle the dough with additional flour on top to prevent the dough from being too sticky when rolling.

Meanwhile, line one or two sheet pans with parchment and dust them with semolina flour. This is where you will place the gnocchi as you cut them. When placing, keep the gnocchi separated or they will stick together.

Cut approximately a ¼-cup-size piece off the dough and cover the rest. Flour your hands and roll the piece of dough, as though you were playing with a piece of clay, into a long piece approximately ¼ inch in diameter. Cut that rolled piece into individual ½-inch pieces and place those on the floured sheet pans. Repeat the process until all the dough is shaped and cut into gnocchi. There should be about 70 pieces or enough for 4 servings. The pasta can be kept on the sheet pans, refrigerated for no more than 2 days or frozen in airtight containers up to a month.

In the same stockpot with the hot simmering water, poach the peas until just tender. Remove and set a side for final cooking and saucing of the gnocchi.

In a large (14-inch diameter if possible) sauté pan, melt the butter over moderate heat and add the minced sage.

At the same time add the gnocchi to the stockpot with the simmering water. As they rise to the top after cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, use a slotted spoon or a spider to remove the gnocchi from the water and place in the sauté pan with the melted butter. Raise the heat under the sauté pan slightly and repeat the process until all the gnocchi are removed from the stockpot.

Scatter the peas around and gently fold them into the gnocchi until everything is lightly coated with the melted butter. Gently spoon the finished gnocchi into warm bowls and sprinkle grated ricotta salata over the top to serve.

Ramp gnocchi with butter and peas

Ramp gnocchi with butter and peas

As you can see, ramps are quite versatile. A pesto, a pickle, and a pasta were prepared from just one large bunch. There are plenty of other ways to include this spring offering in your cooking so I’m hopeful you’ll give it a try.

Slice of mortadella with a tangle of pickled ramps and rhubarb mostarda

Slice of mortadella with a tangle of pickled ramps and rhubarb mostarda

Be well. Eat well.
“Yes, of course you could do this at home, and you should!” A/W