Sunday, February 12, 2006

Spaghetti al Pesto delle Lipari

I just made a great new pasta dish which is a neat twist on the traditional Genoese pesto sauce. Rather than a blend of basil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese, this version which hails from the tiny Lipari islands off the coast of Sicily includes a combination of nuts, mint and tomatoes. It has been sunny and clear for the past few days which makes me feel like summer can't be far away. So I'm now anxious to have a summer dish. I have no decent fresh tomatoes this sunny February afternoon, so I went with canned and the result was still really good. This recipe comes from Amalia, a wonderful English student of mine who is also an actress and a consummate global home cook. She is expert at myriad Italian, North African and Indian dishes but is also a big fan of Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart. Every year she compiles and prints small cookbooks to give as Christmas gifts to friends and family. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the latest one that includes this recipe:

(for 4 people)
350 gr spaghetti (that's about 2/3 of a 1 lb package
2 tbsp sliced almonds
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp walnuts
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (use the best you can afford here since it will be eaten raw. You can really taste the difference.)
6 ripe San Marzano (plum) tomatoes or 6 canned tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
10 mint leaves
red pepper flakes and salt to taste

If using fresh tomatoes, blanch (boil for 10 seconds) them and peel off the skins, then slice them in half crosswise and squeeze out any seeds. Let them drain in a colander for 30 minutes. If using canned tomatoes, slice them in half crosswise and squeeze out the seeds, drain for 30 minutes.
In a small food processor, reduce the nuts, the garlic and the red pepper flakes to a granular texture then add the tomatoes, oil, mint and salt and process to a smooth consistency.
Serve over thin pasta.
***Interestingly, this sauce really resembles an Arab-inspired Spanish dish called Salsa Romesco which has basically the same ingredients plus vinegar minus mint. I wonder if Arab travelers in and around Sicily left this culinary idea in Italy.


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