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Sicilian Pesto

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When I travel to a new country for the first time, I always prepare by familiarizing myself with their cuisine.

I spend more time than most people I know reading menus. Having researched local dishes before I arrive helps me narrow down the choices. My Sicilian husband and I will be visiting Sicily this fall, the first time for both of us. I did cater our Sicilian wedding dinner six years ago. Here’s what we enjoyed:

Braciole (with prosciutto, provolone, breadcrumbs, garlic, currants, Parmesan and toasted pine nuts) bathed in fresh tomato sauce with pancetta and crumbled Italian sausage.

White lasagna with layers of hand-rolled pasta, prosciutto, porcini mushrooms, shallots, fresh basil, bechamel, Reggiano and a generous dusting of Périgord truffles (thank you, Melissas!).

Caponata with grilled eggplant, olives, capers, lemon, fresh tomatoes, and basil.

Focaccia

While most of those recipes are Sicilian, I decided to try new ones before our upcoming trip. On the top of my list is Sauce Trapanese, a pesto that originated in the town of Trapani on the West Coast of Sicily. While it contains basil, this pesto's primary ingredient is tomato, garlic, basil, red chili flakes, olive oil cheese and almonds instead of pine nuts. It is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle and can be served with bruschetta, a myriad of other appetizers and also with pasta. As usual, I’ve taken a few liberties to make it my own, based on what was on hand today. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as we have. I will definitely be making this again.

For the Pesto Trapanese
Makes ¾ cup pesto

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Ingredients
½ cup Melissa’s Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped
½ cup Marconi almonds (or regular almonds), roughly chopped
½ cup basil, roughly chopped
1 ½ teaspoons Melissa’s Chopped Garlic
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon Melissa’s red chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Combine the sundried tomatoes, almonds, basil, and garlic in the small bowl of a food processor.

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Pulse until finely chopped and well combined (but not puréed).

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Transfer to a small mixed bowl and stir in cheese, olive oil and chili flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the Pasta Trapanese
Makes 4 to 6 entrée servings

Many chefs suggested using 1 ½ cups of sauce per pound of pasta (unless it is a rich sauce such as alfredo, in which case you would use less. I like my pasta really saucy! So, I used a pound of pasta with this recipe even though the sauce yield is approximately 3 cups. Either way, you can always use half the sauce and freeze the rest.

Ingredients
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 packages 10 oz packages Melissa’s Heavenly Village Marzano tomatoes
½ cup fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe Pesto Trapanese, about 3/4 cup
½ cup reserved pasta water
1-pound package dried (or fresh pasta) I used linguine

Directions
In a large sauté pan*, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, basil and ½ teaspoon salt and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until tomatoes are just starting to burst. Remove from heat.

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Carefully transfer tomato mixture to the bowl of a food processor or jar of a blender. Process or blend until smooth. Pour sauce back into sauté pan. Add Pesto Trapanese and stir to combine. Just before adding the pasta, add ½ cup (or more) of pasta water to achieve the right consistency.

Cook pasta according to package directions. About 1 minute before draining pasta, heat the tomato sauce to a simmer.

Remove a cup of pasta water. Set aside. Drain pasta and add to sauce. Toss well. Garnish with fresh basil.

*Be sure this is a large pan. You will be tossing the cooked pasta and sauce in this pan.

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