Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tomato Almond Pesto/Pesto alla Trapanese

I really can't take any credit for this one, other than having the smarts to "like" Cook's Illustrated  on Facebook. It appealed to me because I had extra blanched almonds from horchata, as well as a container of cherry tomatoes in my fridge that were coming close to requiring life support. I probably would have made it even if I didn't have these two things handy. Cherry tomatoes are flavorful and abundant right now, and with pinenuts selling for more per pound than filet mignon, an economical pesto with almonds sounded pretty good.

   I followed the recipe pretty closely with this one, I annotate what I've modified slightly.

Pesto alla Trapanese (makes about 3 C pesto, 4-6 servings pasta)
  • 2 1/2 C cherry tomatoes (the recipe doesn't specify 2 1/2 C whole tomatoes, or chopped. I used 2 1/2 C halved cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 C skinless almonds (I used a 1/3 C)
  • 1/2 C packed basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic (I used 2)
  • 1 pepperoncini, stemmed
  •  salt
  • pepper (my add)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (my add)
  • generous amount crushed red pepper
  • 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil (I used 1/4 C)
  • 1 lb pasta, linguini or fettucine (I used sun-dried tomato fettucine, see note below)
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan (I omitted)
1. Place the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the skillet frequently. Cook until fragrant and slightly browned. Allow to cool, slightly.
2. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, basil, almonds, garlic, pepperoncini until smooth. Add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to taste. If slightly bitter, or not flavorful enough, add the sugar.
3. With the motor on, slowly add the olive oil. Because I knew this would cause pesto to erupt out of the food processor, I slowly pulsed in the olive oil instead, and it emulsified just fine.
4. Heat water for the pasta and cook. Reserve 1/2 C pasta cooking liquid and add to the pesto. Toss together pasta, pesto and parmesan and enjoy.

Kitchen Notes: The texture of this is not as a typically basil pesto, it's more comparable to a runny salsa.The original recipe calls for completely cooling the almonds to room temperature. Mine were still quite warm when I added them, and this didn't appear to change the flavor. I found the sugar was necessary because the pesto had a flavor that was sweet, but unpleasantly bitter, and the sugar resolved this. I used a sun-dried tomato dried pasta. Typically, I think that flavored pastas underperform, but here it works well.  A lot of the flavor is usually lost in the cooking water, but since the cooking water is incorporated into the sauce, the flavor is retained. I used Pasta Alley brand which I buy at my farmer's market. It takes a bit longer to cook than commercial pastas, and it has a fantastic chewy texture. I used a combination of red and purple cherry tomatoes. This is note is probably unimportant, but it gives me an excuse to post a picture of the tomatoes:

And here's the pasta:

Verdict? Pretty tasty. Avoid if you don't like your pastas a bit sweet. If you like the sweetness of a pumpkin ravioli, than you'll probably enjoy this. If pumpkin ravioli is too sweet for your tastes, better skip this one. I enjoyed it garnished with almonds, but I also think that 1 of the following would be good: mozzarella (in lieu of parmesan) for a caprese style pesto, a few fresh greens, or kalamata olives used very sparingly.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, this pesto should not be sweet (at all) so remove the sugar and up the salt or parmigiano if necessary. Make sure your almonds are fresh otherwise they might be the culprit for the bitterness you encountered. a trick is to keep them in the freezer to keep them from turning rancid.
    BTW, this traditional sauce has been made pretty much the same way for GENERATIONS. If people play with it, they might be removing the pepperoncino, black pepper (I don't add any) or playing with the quantities of tomatoes, basil, cheese and almonds. Good luck with your next batch!