Cook this @home: Tavola's pesto trapanese
For the perfect recipe to send in summer, consider pesto trapanese.
"It's a great summer sauce," said Chef Nick Accardi of Tavola (488 Ninth Ave., 212-273-1181, tavolahellskitchen.com). "We have hot dogs and potato salad for BBQs, and Italians have this."
Tavola makes the pesto, a very old, traditional farmhouse-style sauce that originates from the Sicilian province of Trapani, all summer -- when the herbs are in season here. Accardi sources the basil from local growers and mashes it with parsley, garlic, anchovy, blanched almonds, salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle -- the traditional way, though home cooks can use a food processor if desired.
Accardi puts his own spin on the traditional sauce by adding peeled tomatoes -- specifically plum, but a good beefsteak or garden tomato would also do -- to the paste.
"The tomato gives it a sweet melody against the pungent herbs," said Accardi.
A good, extra virgin olive oil is also essential to the pesto. Accardi uses Castelvetrano, which he imports from Sicily and even sells at the restaurant for $17.95 for a half liter.
The pesto trapanese is used in several menu items at the rustic Italian trattoria, from a wood-oven pizza to a soft shell crab dish, as well as a simple pasta that is easy to replicate at home. Accardi uses Mafaldine, a flat, wide, ribbon-shaped pasta, but you can toss the sauce with your own favorite variety.
By incorporating grains, nuts and "good" monounsaturated fats from the olive oil, this dish is emblematic of the Mediterranean diet. You can do even better by serving the pasta in small portions as a side along with a fish.
"I'm a true believer in the Mediterranean diet," said Accardi. "It's one of the most realistic and taste-friendly diets that exist."
Mafaldini Pesto Trapanese (Serves two)
1/2 lb. dry mafaldini pasta
15 basil leaves
1 clove garlic
1/2 anchovy fillet
1 tbsp. blanched almonds
1 tbsp. flat leaf Italian parsley
3 plum tomatoes
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tbsp. sea salt (for pasta water) + pinch (for pesto)
Pinch of ground black pepper
1. Boil 2 quarts of water for pasta and add 2 tbsp. sea salt. When water boils, add pasta.
2. In a mortar and pestle or food processor, add pinch of sea salt, garlic, basil, parsley, black pepper, anchovy and blanched almonds, and proceed to grind it together to a paste.
3. Add peeled, poached, rough chopped plum tomatoes with olive oil.
4. Drain pasta and place in bowl. Add your pesto and toss with grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Serve.
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