Hey pesto! Going off piste

From chilli-spiked to truffled incarnations, pesto has come a long way since its supermarket debut in 1991. Today, pesto, that Italian mid-week supper saviour, describes many sauces that don’t necessarily adhere to the traditional formula of cheese, basil, nuts and olive oil. Start with the premise that it contains these four basics, then pick the herb or cheese and adjust everything else to match. That attitude will appal purists, but nowadays once-hard and fast rules about pesto are increasingly being ignored for the sake of flavour. Here I´m concentrating on a red version, which is inspired by pesto alla Siciliana, also called Pesto alla Trapanese, the scarlet cousin of green pesto Genovese, leans on sun-dried tomatoes, nuts and tangy roasted red peppers and uses basil as a garnish only. Though pesto is traditionally pounded by hand, a food processor simplifies the effort. Like most recipes there are diverse regional deviations. The original recipe calls for walnuts, which I personally find bring an unwanted earthyness to  everything they are added to and should be limited to star solo in their own right. It also calls for tomato concentrate and roasted red peppers. Given the fact that there are regional differences I felt it gave me free rein to put my own stamp on it. This lesser known "sauce" is tomato based with almonds and naturally sweet, versus the basil pesto with pine nuts that we love and know so well. Seasonal cherry tomatoes are perfect for this Sicilian Tomato Pesto Sauce. I have also made it with tomatoes on the vine and Roma which are also delicious. Just make sure they are very ripe for maximum sweetness and flavour. What emerged had more of the texture of creamy "sauce" than textured pesto.Then again pesto can be fine tuned to whatever consistency you prefer. When it comes to the texture of the sauce, it can be blended to be slightly chunky (you will get little bits of the almonds) or smooth. I like it a little chunky. I prefer to make this pesto a day ahead of when I’m going to use it because it tastes better the next day after the flavors have a chance to meld and develop. It can be kept refrigerated for up to 1 week or freeze for 3 months.
                             Pesto alla Siciliana / Pesto alla Trapanese
1/3 cup (42 grams) slivered or roasted, unsalted almonds
1 garlic clove, peeled
5 tablespoons Parmigiano reggiano, grated
1-pound (454 grams) cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup (6 grams) fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup (50 ml) olive oil
Add the almonds, garlic and cheese to a blender or food processor and pulse until the almonds are chopped. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Pulse until the tomatoes are chopped. With the blender running, drizzle in the olive oil.
Transfer to sealed jars. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week or freeze for 3 months.


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