A Recipe from Sicily . . . Pesto Trapanese.

When speaking of Pesto, the Italian region of Liguria naturally comes to mind. It is in fact in this region that one of the best known Italian recipes originated. In one of my previous posts I have already shared a variation of the traditional Pesto Ligure, the Trenette Avvantagiae The recipe however, was still one of the Italian Riviera.

Today I will share a new variation, this time from the region of Sicilia, specifically from the city of Trapani. You might be wondering about the connection between these two regions so far apart.

Genova, as you might know, between the 10th and 13th centuries, was one the four Repubbliche Marinare practicing extensive trading in the Mediterranean and partecipating in the Crusades. During their journeys, the Genoese ships, coming from the East, used to stop in Trapani, which was one of Sicily’s most important harbors. The Genoese sailors introduced the Ligurian pesto to the local sailors who in turn adapted the recipe to their traditions and local produces, such as mandorle (almonds) and pomodori (tomatoes).

A summer dish whose secrets lies in the quality and fresheness of its ingredients. Hot pasta is simply tossed into this hearty, creamy sauce for a simple yet satisfying meal. The cut of pasta traditionally used is called busiati, a fresh pasta, which is similar to the maccheroni al ferro and fusilli. These shapes of pasta all have in common the way they are made, with the aid of a “ferro” (similar to knitting needle) or a “ buso” – hence the name busiati – (a wooden stick from a local plant). In my dish I used dry maccheroni that I was fortunate to find at my local grocery store.

Fusilli would be a perfect option and I, personally, wouldn’t mind using this sauce with bucatini.

The Pesto Trapanese is also characterized by the absence of cheese, however, in my recipe I did add some pecorino cheese. I also used cherry tomatoes rather then regular tomatoes. Using the cherry tomatoes allows for a shorter time in the food processor which subsequently helps in keeping the texture of the almonds.

Note: traditionally a mortar and pestle should be used.

Enjoy the recipe with a glass of chilled Regaleali Bianco di Sicilia!

 La Mia Ricetta

Maccheroni con Pesto Trapanese

Cosa Serve (What is needed)

1-1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (ripe)

15 leaves of fresh basil

1 cup of whole almond

1 clove of garlic peeled, cut in half and inner green core removed.

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese

kosher salt

1 pound of fusilli or bucatini


Cosa Fare (What to do)

Put the food processor bowl and its blade in the fridge (this will prevent the basil from becoming dark).

In a large pasta pot bring the water to boil. You will use the boiling water first to blanch the almond and the tomatoes, and then to cook the pasta.

Rinse the cherry tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze out the seeds.

Clean the basil with a damp kitchen towel.

When the water start boiling add the almonds and after 70 seconds add the tomatoes.

After 20 seconds, with a skimmer, pull both the almonds and the tomatoes out of the water and transfer to a colander. Add salt to the boiling water, lower the heat and cover to keep the temperature just below boiling.

Peel the tomatoes and set aside.

Skin the almonds and transfer to a small frying pan.

Slightly toast the almond and then let them cool completely.

Once the almond have cool down you are ready to assemble the sauce. At this time you are also ready to cook your pasta. Turn the heat up, bring the water to boil and cook your pasta “ al dente”!

In the food processor grind the almond, garlic and salt.

When the almonds are roughly chopped, add the basil.

Pulse until all the basil looks like is finely chopped and blended with the almonds. The mixture should result creamy but at the same time grainy. You should be able to see and feel small bits of almonds.

Add the tomatoes and pulse until they blend into the mixture.

Lastly add the pecorino cheese and the oil and pulse to blend.

Spoon 1/2 of the sauce into a large serving bowl and diluted with some of the pasta water.

Drain the pasta and drop into the bowl and toss quickly to coat the pasta. Add the remaining sauce and toss again.

Serve in individual bowl with a sprinkle of pecorino cheese.


A Recipe from the Italian Riviera

My Fresh Basil

I want to share a recipe from sunny Liguria. I trust you have all heard about the Pesto sauce. Today, however, I will share a variation of the traditional pesto recipe: “Trenette avvantagiae”, trenette (type of pasta similar to fettuccine), condite (dressed) with the aromatic pesto and enriched with patate (potatoes) and fagiolini (green beans) . . . doesn’t it sound delicious?

This recipe is not only perfect for the warm days of Spring and Summer, it is also another example of Mediterranean Diet. Of course, it is also a perfect choice for your meatless Friday or Monday.

If you have been following my blog, you know that a little bit of history always precedes my recipes. It is not different today, of course you could scroll directly down to the “important” part, but I know you wouldn’t do that!

Liguria is one of the smallest regions of Italy, a narrow strip of land, whose landscape precludes extensive crop field. The Southern exposure, however, along with a mild climate favor an intensive production of vegetables, herbs, fruit, olives and grapes.

Intrinsic to the Liguria landscape are the terrazzamenti (terraces), large steps bordered by stone walls, which allow to make the most of small portions of land.

Amongst the local produces stands the basilico genovese (Genoese basil). This basil, characterized by small leaves and intense aroma, is quintessential  in the preparation of  pesto: that deliciously fresh sauce typical of Genova, made indeed with basilico, aglio, pinoli, olio extravergine e formaggio (basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil and cheese).

The name Pesto comes from the traditional preparation method, which prescribes the “pestatura” (crushing) of the ingredients in a marble mortaio (mortar) with a wooden pestello (pestle).

The same technique is used in the preparation of other Liguria’ specialties such as salsa di noci (walnut sauce), which I particularly love. I will share that recipe at a later time.

It is very likely that the Liguri borrowed the use of mortar and pestle from the Saracens. Genova’s wealth in fact, for centuries, had attracted the Normans and the Saracens that looted the city several times.

Between the centuries XII and XIV, Genova was one of the most powerful Repubbliche Marinare (Maritime Republics). Considering its important role in the Mediterranean Sea, it is not surprising to find culinary similarities with remote areas such as Sicily. Trenette for example – the name comes from “trena” that in Genoese means stringa (shoelace) – derive from the Sicilian Tria, a particular type of pasta often combined with chickpeas.

In Liguria, the trenette, along with the trofie, are the perfect companion for the pesto sauce and they are the pasta of choice for today’s featured recipe.

I own a mortar and pestle, I use however, a food blender to make my pesto as I have not mastered yet the art of “pestatura”, which is not as easy as you would expect.  I will admit that the taste of  pesto made with the traditional method is different and certainly better. Today, however, most Italians prepare homemade pesto with the aid of a blender; it might not be perfect, yet it is far better that the store-bought one!

In this recipe, I only use the pestle to crush the garlic with salt before adding it to the other ingredients.

For a classic recipe using the traditional mortar and pestle you can visit the official site of the Consortium of Pesto Genovese. 


My Trenette Avvantagiae

(Trenette with pesto, green beans and potatoes)


For the pesto sauce:

2 -1/4 cups fresh basil leaves (preferably young, small leaves of the Genoese quality)

½ cup Extra-Virgin olive oil

6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of pine nuts

kosher salt

Other ingredients:

1 lb trenette or fettuccine or linguine

¼ pound green beans

1 large Russet potato


Parmigiano Reggiano

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter


First let’s take care of the basil. Following my mother’s advice, I do not wash the basil leaves, or else they would lose their aroma. I wet a kitchen towel with hot water, I squeeze the water out and with the damp towel I wipe the basil leaves. Then, I let the leaves dry completely.

Peel, wash and dice the potato. Trim and rinse the green beans.

In a large pot bring the water to boil, add salt. Add the diced potatoes and the green beans to the salted boiling water.

Once cooked, spoon out of the water. Keep the potatoes warm. Cut the green beans into thirds and keep them warm.

In the same boiling water add the trenette  – I used fettuccine – and let cook.

I used Fettuccine

In the meanwhile prepare the pesto.

NOTE: You don’t want to prepare the pesto too far in advance or you will incur in oxidation problems. Oxidation (leaves turning dark and flavor deterioration) happens when the leaves are in contact with the oxygen in the air. First rule to prevent oxidation is to make sure the basil leaves are completely dry. This will allow the oil to coat the leaves and create a seal. Second rule is to work the blender slowly – even better in pulse. This will prevent the blades from heating and therefore will prevent the oxidation.

In the food processor, first add  the oil then the basil leaves, the crushed garlic/salt. Process slowly adding more oil if necessary. Add the grated cheeses and pulse few times to blend the ingredients.

The pesto is now ready to be used. Of course, you can use this pesto recipe for classic pasta al pesto – I also like with gnocchi – or to add flavor to a classic minestrone, in which just adding one spoonful of pesto will do the trick. And what about spreading a little bit of pesto on a slice of bread and top it with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a slice of tomatoes? Yum!

One minutes before the trenette are cooked, add the potatoes and green beans to the pot (just to warm them up).

In a large bowl spoon some of the pesto and dilute with a little of the pasta cooking water.

Drain well the pasta, potatoes, and green beans and transfer into the bowl with pesto.

Stir to combine the ingredients, add the remaining pesto and the tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine until the butter has melted.

Plate into individual bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

I hope you will enjoy this dish as much as I do!

Have you tried this dish before? Have you visited Liguria?

Friday night flavorful meatless dinner

Who said that the days of magro (days of fasting or meatless) cannot be flavorful?

Do you know that during the Middle Age, the Christian’s observance of Lent and the various religious fasts added up to an estimated 130 days a year?

The Italian cuisine is rich of exquisite meatless dishes based on fish and vegetables, and today I am going to share with you My Friday night dinner. Two recipes, simple enough to require only a handful of ingredients and only 30 minutes of your time, but at the same time, rich of flavor, comforting and satisfying.

Pesce Spada in salmoriglio (Swordfish in Salmoriglio), with a side of Melanzane a funghetto.

Both dishes are perfect examples of Mediterranean diet. In fact, fish, vegetable, olive oil, and aromatic herbs are the staples of this diet.

The pesce spada in salmoriglio is a typical recipe of both the Calabria and the Sicilia  regions. The melanzane a funghetto is a contorno (side dish)  typical of the Neapolitan cuisine. For the eggplant, I use my mom’s recipe which also happens to be my husband’s favorite. In the most canonical version of the recipe, the eggplants are deep fried, the tomato sauce is cooked separately and the two ingredients are combined only at the end. My mom’s recipe, however, is a little lighter, because the eggplants are not deep fried.

The swordfish is simply grilled or – when it’s cold outside – seared in a skillet, and it is then drizzled with the salmoriglio, which is a raw sauce made with olive oil, fresh parsley, fresh oregano, lemon, garlic, and capers. As often happens, there are several variations of this sauce, some with capers some without, some where the sauce is simmered  a bagnomaria (wet bath) and some where the ingredients are simply emulsified. I do use the capers and I do the wet bath.

I shall say that in the preparation of the salmoriglio the use of the fresh oregano is important because is less pungent than the dry oregano, but I have to confess that last night I realized too late that my oregano’s plant had not survived the winter and that I had forgotten to buy a fresh spring at the market. Solution: use dry oregano, a little stronger flavor but, still good.

Well, I am sad to say that the oregano was not the only thing missing. . . the whole herbs section went forgotten! The BASIL!! How could I have forgotten the basil for my eggplant? Oh, I have an excuse: at the end of summer I freeze my fresh basil. Few weeks ago, however, my freezer broke and I was forced to throw away everything. . . including my basil. My mom’s melanzane a funghetto without the sweet scented basil would have been a big NO-NO, yet my husband and I enjoyed the dish and were happy to have leftover for today’s lunch.


Swordfish is Salmoriglio Sauce

Ingredients for  4 persons

4 swordfish steak, not too tick

A handful of flat-leaf parsley

2 sprigs of fresh oregano

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon of capers ( I prefer caper in salt)

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp of grated lemon zest

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper.


Start with the salmoriglio sauce. Finely chop the garlic, oregano and parsley with a knife or, like me with a mezzaluna (half-moon chopper) – did I tell you this is one my favorite kitchen gadget? – and set aside.

In a small bowl wisk together ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Wisk the ingredients, set the bowl in a small pan with simmering water on low heat – this is the bagnomaria (water bath) – and add the minced garlic, parsley and oregano, wisk and let the sauce slowly warm up.

Lastly add the chopped capers and the grated lemon zest. One more wisk and it’s ready!

For the fish,  grease a grill grate with olive oil and set it over high heat. Sprinkle both sides of the fish with kosher salt and black pepper.

Once the grill is hot, cook the swordfish, for about 5 minutes per side ( 3-4 minutes for thin steak).

The flash has to be opaque. Make sure it is nice and browned at least on one side.

Plate the swordfish and drizzle with the sauce on top.

Doesn’t it look delicious?

And to go along . . .


(In Naples these are called Mulignane a fungetiello)

Ingredients for four persons

4 eggplants (possibly the Italian kind, long and small)

1 can of chopped plum tomatoes ( San Marzano are the best)

extra virgin olive oil

1 glove of garlic


few leaves of basil


Dice the eggplant, transfer to a colander sprinkle with salt, cover with a flat plate and put something heavy on top. Let sit for 1 hour so the eggplant will release all the bitter water out of the eggplant. Rinse, squeeze and pat dry.

In a frying pan heat 6 tablespoon of olive oil with a clove of crushed garlic. When the oil is warm and the garlic is golden, add the eggplant, stir well so they are coated with the fragrant oil and cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat.

Add the chopped plum tomatoes and salt to taste.

Cook 10  more minutes. Lastly add the hand chopped basil – NO BASIL IN MINE THIS TIME! –

This is not just a delicious side dish, think of it as a great appetizer along with some fresh mozzarella or, on top of crostini (toasted bread bruschetta style).

NOTE: A funghetto, means in a small mushrooms style. When the eggplants are diced in small cubes and fried the are indeed similar to mushrooms.