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