A Different Kind of Pesto

A Different Kind of Pesto

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

We tend to think of pesto as just the Ligurian stuff with basil, nuts, garlic,etc. But really the word “pesto” simply means ground or crushed. It is the past participle of “pestare”, to grind, pound or crush. It comes from the same word root as pestle as in “mortar and pestle”. But so much for the Italian lesson. Any time you mush up a bunch of stuff then you’ve got pesto. It appears on lots of trendoidal menus in various forms using ingredients as varied as roasted peppers, arugula, spinach and (shudder) cilantro.

So I am hosting our monthly poker party tonight and was looking for something to feed the crowd other than the usual sandwiches without breaking my own personal bank and remembered this recipe from my old friend Carol Field. Well, we’re not exactly buddies but I do like her cookbooks. Again this comes from “In Nonna’s Kitchen” that I mentioned before – click here for the other post. A nice thing about this book that is so great is that as in all of Carol’s books there are the personal notes. In this case there is a two page description of the Sicilian grandmother (Antonietta, aged 83 as of the book’s publication) who lives near Trapani. This little aside provides a little view of life in this part of Italy, especially in times long past. I love these little stories. But back to the business at hand.

One note here is that the recipe calls for peeling and seeding tomatoes. I tend to use roma tomatoes for this kind of thing since they have good flavor, don’t have too many seeds and are cheap. I find that it takes a couple of minutes in boiling water to get the skin sufficiently loose that it comes off easily. After that it’s pretty much impossible to seed them but since there aren’t many anyway, who cares. I do find that if I crush them up a bit by hand and let them sit in a bowl for a few minutes I can also easily pour off the excess water so that the recipe won’t be too watery. I suspect that you could skip this whole peeling the tomatoes thing and use canned tomatoes but you’d really need to drain them well to keep the sauce from becoming too watery.

Now about the pasta. Carol (and presumably Antonietta) calls for spaghetti. I prefer some shorter extruded pasta and find that farfalle (butterflies) works well. I like the shape and feel of this pasta but it really needs a creamy sauce to stick to the relatively broad flat surface and this sauce is perfect for it. By the way the recipe does not call for cheese and I like it without but again, you’re the cook, do what you want. Experiment and see what works for you.

Another note. While some people wax ecstatic about the superior flavor of making pesto (this and the basil variety) with a mortar and pestle I will leave that for someone with way more patience than me. For me it’s a food processor all the way.

So here’s the recipe:

Spaghetti col Pesto alla Trapanese

¾ cup blanched almonds

1 teaspoon sea salt (I just use Kosher salt – seems good enough for me)

4 medium cloves garlic

1 cup basil leaves

5 sprigs parsley (please discard the stems)

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 ½ pounds tomatoes peeled and seeded (see discussion above)

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound spaghetti (a note about this later)

Put the salt and the almonds in a food processor and grind away until it’s almost like a course flour. Add everything else but the tomatoes and oil and continue the process until it’s all smooth. I found that it works best if you also add at least half of the oil to lubricate things – it seems to work much better that way. If I had a big enough food processor I would just add the tomatoes and the remaining oil at this point and continue processing but don’t completely mush it up. It’s nice to have the tomatoes with a little chunkiness to them. Of course you’re in control here you can make it a little chunky or smooth – it’s your call. Given my smaller food processor I emptied out the bowl except for a little of the previously ground greens and other stuff and roughly ground up the tomatoes with the remaining oil and then mixed it altogether. You can use it right away or stick it in the fridge for up to several days if you can resist eating it all. I made extra for a nice lunch for me and the lovely D.

So, the pesto dish was a hit with the guys (and one woman who always seems to take my money). Unfortunately my luck wasn’t as good but the damage was minor.

2 Responses to “A Different Kind of Pesto”

  1. DeAnna Says:


    Your pesto recipe and photos are making me very hungry! I’m coming by for lunch. ; )

    Love all the great photos of Italy you’ve posted.


  2. Joe Says:


    That is really a very good recipe. Everyone loves it, it’s easy to make and the leftovers keep for more than a week in the fridge and can be frozen. What’s not to like. I’m glad that you like it and think that you’ll like some of the other posts as well.


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