The Italian city of Trapani, on Sicily’s westernmost tip, has an identity all of its own. That’s because geographically speaking it’s closer both in distance and topography to Tunis than Naples. In fact, it’s closer to several African ports than it is to any part of mainland Italy. It owes much of its heritage to the sea and its importance to the ancient trade routes. Trapani flourished as the center of Phoenician trading because it was a navigationally necessary port during the middle ages. These facts helped Sicily’s foods to develop separately and distinctly from the rest of Italy. It’s hot, dry, predominately flat landscape seems more reminiscent of North Africa than most parts of Italy and is another determinate factor in its culinary past.
Almonds are a rather frequent visitor to the cooking of Trapani (and Sicily in general). They grow all over the place. It’s not unusual to see almond trees growing in the wild right alongside other trees, like date and citrus. All of which found their way to Sicily on ancient trading ships and have established themselves quite nicely.
My favorite of the almond-centric recipes is the Trapanese version of pesto. I am sure the Genovese might argue with the term pesto, as this sauce is not green at all. It’s a rustic mix of chopped almonds and fresh, cherry tomatoes. There is often a bit of heat to the recipe in the form of red-pepper. Like the more traditional green pesto sauce, this version is either painstakingly pounded together in a mortar and pestle, or hastily whirled in a food processor before being tossed with good local pasta.
Trenette is the typical pasta for Pesto Trapanese. It’s a fat hand-rolled, square spaghetti. It’s almost impossible to find outside of Sicily so I typically choose bucatini when I’m in the mood for Pesto Trapanese.
Roasted Asparagus with Tomato-Almond Pesto Trapanese and Fresh Cherry Tomatoes
Notice I said typically. Recently I got to thinking about this Pesto Trapanese as a sauce that could move beyond pasta. After all, green pesto sauces show up all the time without a noodle near. This time, I’m serving my Pesto Trapanese tossed with roasted asparagus. GREG