It all started with a beautiful bowl of heirloom cherry tomatoes....
Our friend Cynthia from New York (Farmhouse Table and our partner in crime for the Divine Sicily tour), was coming in to town with 3 incredible wines that she brought back from Sicily made by this unconventional and somewhat controversial producer that we will be visiting on our trip, Frank Cornelissen. I wanted to keep things simple to allow the wine to be the star of the show, and also wanted something that was utterly Sicilian.
Off to the Tuesday Crescent City Farmer's Market I went, in search of local ingredients I could use for this meal. I am a tomato fanatic so I went a little crazy at the heirloom tomato lady's stand and then again at the cute guy's stand and came home with bags of heirloom tomatoes in all different sizes, shapes and colors, plus a big bag of fresh basil.
So, I started digging through all of my cookbooks and found this classic Sicilian pesto made with fresh cherry tomatoes. I decided to use Lidia Bastianich's version as I have found all of her recipes to be tried and true. And she did not disappoint on this one! Delicious, light, fresh and very unique, this is the perfect summer pesto. Just add some of Chef Daniel Esses' homemade fettuccine, good friends and a few bottles of wine for an amazing meal!
From Lidia's Italy
Serves 4 to 6
¾ pound (about 2-1/2 cups) cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 large fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup of whole almonds, lightly toasted
1 plump garlic clove, crushed and peeled
1/4 teaspoon peperoncino or to taste
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for the pasta
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
A blender (my preference) or a food processor
A pot for cooking the spaghetti
Rinse the cherry tomatoes and pat them dry. Rinse the basil leaves and pat dry.
Drop the tomatoes into the blender jar or food processor bowl followed by the garlic clove, the almonds, basil leaves, peperoncino and ½ tsp salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived.
With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you’re going dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate if for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.
To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt, to the boil in the large pot. Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl.
Cook the spaghetti al dente, lift it from the cooking pot, drain briefly, and drop onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.