This is a dish we had when we dined at Mercato, in New York. We enjoyed it so much that we had to make it at home, and thought that you, fellow scratcher, would like to try it, too. Apparently, it’s from Trapani, Sicily; hence, the name. As with many Italian dishes, this one is easy, yet tastes delicious. And, it has an upside for us: trying a new technique, that of blanching and peeling almonds. It’s not difficult, so, let’s give it a try together, shall we?
Now, we were pretty sure we knew what would go into Trenette Al Pesto Trapanese from reading the menu: almonds, garlic, tomato, and basil, but we looked up a recipe on BBCgoodfood to get us started. As you might expect, we changed it just a bit, to match what’s available in the Scratchin’ It Test Kitchen.
If you have the inclination, make the trenette pasta yourself. It’s not particularly difficult. Otherwise, use linguine as a substitute for the trenette. You can use pre-blanched almonds if you wish, but you’ll miss out on the fun of popping them out of their skins. As you’d expect, this recipe depends on high quality ingredients so we specify San Marzano tomatoes, real Parmigiano-Reggiano (the original called for Pecorino, which would work, too), and a high quality extra-virgin olive oil. Don’t even think of using dried basil!
Procedure in detail:
Blanch almonds. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add almonds, reduce heat, and let simmer for 3 minutes. It seems strange to be boiling almonds, doesn’t it? After 3 minutes, drain and let cool enough so you can handle the almonds without getting burned.
Peel almonds. Now for the fun part. Pick up an almond between your forefinger and thumb and give it a squeeze. The almond pops right out of its skin! Easy. Easy. Easy. Much easier than removing the skins of, say, hazelnuts. In a minute or two, all the almonds should be peeled. Discard the peels.
Toast almonds. Place the almonds in a heavy skillet over medium heat and toast the almonds until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Make sure to shake the pan or stir the almonds frequently to prevent burned spots. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor.
Grind almonds. Add the garlic and a good pinch of kosher salt to the almonds, and pulse the food processor until the almonds are ground to the size of grains of rice. About 5 to 10 pulses should be good. Let them sit in the processor while you prep the remaining ingredients.
Drain tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl to drain. Use your fingers to split open the tomatoes and remove the liquid and seeds. Remove the cores and tough bits while you work, squeezing out excess liquid from the tomato flesh before adding it to the almonds. Save the drained liquid for another use. We used ours for a tomato vegetable soup.
Make pesto. Now you have the tomato flesh and ground almonds in the food processor, so add the Parmesan and basil leaves. Give it a few pulses to chop the leaves and cheese into bits.
Add oil. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil. You could measure, but we just watch the pesto and stop when we have a nice thick sauce.
Season. Taste the pesto and add salt and pepper as needed, pulsing it in as you adjust the seasonings. Set aside for now.
Boil pasta. Bring a large kettle of water to a rolling boil and add the trenette pasta. If you’re using fresh pasta, it’ll cook faster than dried pasta, so check it often. If you’re using dried pasta, cook according to the directions and desired doneness.
Drain. Right before draining, scoop out about a cup of the pasta water and reserve for adjusting the consistency of the sauce. Drain the pasta completely.
Heat pesto. Place about 3/4 cup of pesto in a large skillet over medium-low heat and warm completely, stirring often so it doesn’t stick.
Stir in pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Add pasta water as needed, and simmer gently until the sauce is creamy. Note that you don’t want a lot of sauce with the pasta: pasta dishes are about eating the pasta, not the sauce.
Serve. Divide between warmed bowls and sprinkle with a bit of additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
While not an exact replica of what we had when eating out, this is an excellent pasta dish for dinner. Nice tomato flavor, a good chewy pasta, bright flavors from the fresh basil. Everything you want in a traditional Italian meal. Even though it seems to have a lot of steps, this is really easy to make and tastes fantastic. Five, five, five!