I have a fantastic occasional-roommate/neighbor at the moment. He is the sort of person that one probably would never expect to become friends with, is difficult to describe, and is impossible to forget. Aside from being a Bohemian surfing photographer, he is a dread-locked, bearded Italian who makes cappuccinos and pasta that would give any LA Italian restaurant a run for its money.
John-Franco, or Frankie, as everyone calls him, really likes his pasta--in a way that only a full-blooded Italian really could. He eats noodles on pretty much a daily basis. To him, “al dente” means “barely cooked to the point of no longer being crunchy." Those blessed with his friendship are often so lucky as to be the recipients of his almost nightly pasta feasts. Frankie just seems to cook the way his heart and palate move him on any particular evening, in accordance with his Bohemian code. This means that something new is in store for his dinner guests at nearly every meal. Well, except for the inclusion of pasta, that is.
I am so used to being the cook in a household that it is refreshing to have someone cooking for me for a change. A few weeks ago Frankie insisted on cooking dinner for me and after a rough week of working. I could hardly say no. A man of few words, he tries terribly hard to converse with me about food and cooking, knowing how I share his passion. After I shot down his attempt at making me pasta in a pureed zucchini sauce (of the few foods I despise, zucchini is top of the list), he came back with a similar looking but entirely different dish: a pesto from Pantelleria.
The typical pesto with which we Americans are most familiar is that made with pine nuts, basil, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil. As many pastas find their roots in a specific region of Italy, this style of pesto is a creation of Genoa. Of course, lately one can find all sorts of strange variations on the theme of greens, nuts, cheese, and oil. For example, the walnut-arugula combination has become a popular take on the classic. On the CDKitchen website, a search for pesto turns up recipes with greens ranging from spinach to parsley and every nut imaginable from pecans to almonds.
In Italy, pesto as we commonly know it in the basil-pine nut combo is pasta al genovese. The only other acceptable version is pesto pantelleria. Leave it to Frankie, a real Italian, to introduce me to a pesto I had yet to become acquainted with. Pantelleria hails from Sicily and is somewhat of a cousin to the Genovese pesto. This version substitutes tomatoes for basil and adds a dash of capers for an unexpected bite. Frankie’s Pesto Pantelleria kept the basil, swapped almonds for the pine nuts, and added the Pantelleria combo of tomatoes and capers.
It is no surprise that pesto turns up in so many forms on CDKitchen and nearly every menu because pesto in any form is a quick meal cook’s best friend. The flavor is bright and potent and the sauce is remarkably easy to make. No matter which variation one subscribes to, all ingredients are prepped and tossed into a blender or food processor and pulsed until--Presto!--one has an adequately smooth yet chunky sauce. From the time I shouted next door to Frankie that I was ready for dinner, some chopping, whizzing, tossing and 15 minutes later, my pesto pasta, as quirky as the chef, was ready to go.
Pesto Pantelleria Recipe
Ready in: under 30 minutes
* 2/3 cup raw almonds
* 1 cup basil leaves
* 1 cup grated Parmigiano
* 3 tomatoes
* 2 tablespoons capers
* 2/3 cup olive oil
* 1 pound spaghetti
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, roughly chop almonds and basil and add to blender. Grate cheese and add to blender. Cut tomatoes in half, squeeze out seeds and discard. Roughly chop and add to blender. Rinse capers under running water and add to blender. Add oil and a couple pinches of salt. Pulse until mixture comes together in chunky sauce adding more oil for a smoother consistency and more salt to taste.
When water comes to a boil, add spaghetti. Cook to al dente. Drain pasta in colander without rinsing and return to pan. Add pesto to pasta. Toss to coat. Serve immediately with extra Parmigiano if desired.