Traveling In Trapani & Pesto

March 30th, 2011 / Comments 0

It’s been a week of travel, discoveries, Vermont connections and, of course, food. More on the Vermont connections in my next post. On Saturday, we traveled by bus across the mountainous center of Sicily to Trapani. Military jets, headed for Libya, flew over my head as I explored the salt museum.

Windmill salt pans1 Traveling In Trapani & Pesto

Windmills Power Pumps Sea Water into Salt Pans

I saw saltpans along the shore of the Mediterranean where harvesting sea salt has been a tradition since the 8th century BCE when the Phoenicians established Motya, a small island off the coast a few miles south of Trapani.

salt tiles Traveling In Trapani & Pesto

Tiles Ready to Cover Harvested Sea Salt

Sea salt obtained from solar evaporation contains a variety of minerals that make it more soluble, more easily absorbed by food and add flavor – all good reasons to use it.

We visited Erice, a medieval village often in the clouds near Trapani.

erice street 01 Traveling In Trapani & Pesto

Every street in Erice is paved with with stones set in this pattern.

crest Traveling In Trapani & Pesto

Crest on a Wall in Erice

erice old and new Traveling In Trapani & Pesto

Old and New in Erice.

On Tuesday, we visited the fish market. It bustled with cooks choosing tuna, swordfish, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, mackerel or smaller, unfamiliar fish. Rather than ordering pasta or couscous with seafood for dinner that evening, I ordered pasta with Trapani style pesto. I hadn’t expected the pesto to be red but it was delicious. Donna, the cook, invited us into her kitchen and with Charles as the translator, she shared her recipe and explained that she used a food processor but a mortar and pestle was more traditional. Here’s how she did it:

Pesto Trapani Style

She lightly toasted four tablespoons of blanched almonds in a dry frying pan. She peeled and seeded six ripe, plum tomatoes and cut them into chunks. After the almonds were ground to a fine powder in the food processor, she added two medium garlic cloves, peeled, a generous cup of fresh basil leaves, two tablespoons of fresh mint leaves, the tomato chunks, half a cup of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and three grinds of pepper. She pulsed the mixture in the food processor until it was smooth and used a spoon to encourage the basil leaves into the tomato puree. Donna topped the cooked pasta with pesto and three slices of eggplant that had been dipped in olive oil and cooked on a grill until tender and slightly charred.

Traditionally, this cold pesto is served on steaming, al dente busiate. Busiate is pasta made by winding a thin strips of fresh pasta, one at a time, around a Sicilian knitting needle, sprinkling it with flour and sliding it off to dry. This effort is repeated until there are enough noodles for four people. Fortunately, this pesto has enough zing that I will serve it on linguini from a box when I make it. With or without eggplant, pasta with pesto Trapani style is a New England dinner option to keep in mind when the snow has stopped flying and tomatoes and basil appear in the market.

Download and print pesto recipe with an ingredients list here.

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