Thursday, June 10, 2010

You Say Tomato—I Say Yes, Please


I have a general rule about tomatoes that basically amounts to avoiding them until 50% of farmers market stalls have them. This is less about being a good seasonal shopper and more about getting the best tomatoes possible because I hate dry, mealy, flavorless tomatoes. It's not even July and already the markets have multiple stalls with real local, heirloom tomatoes—a far cry from the hydroponic fare sold at the market year 'round. I'd avoided temptation and stuck to my principals until late last week when my Urban Organic delivery brought with it three plump, shiny, red tomatoes. It seemed too early in the season to bust out the big guns like a gazpacho, which I only make when tomatoes are beyond sweet and juicy, or my raw tomato capellini, which is similarly relegated to late summer.

But a new raw tomato recipe recently caught my eye; a variation on a classic pesto, with a few interesting and unexpected ingredients thrown in, including tomatoes. Pesto alla Trapanese is a fresh tomato based pesto, meaning that the tomatoes are never cooked, so good tomatoes are a must (no mushy beefsteaks allowed), but as long as they're juicy and flavorful, needn't be the best you've ever had. The changes don't stop there, as the traditional pine nuts are replaced with slivered or sliced almonds, and a pinch of red pepper flake (or pepperoncini) is also added for extra heat. The rest is standard pesto procedure, combining the aforementioned ingredients with basil, garlic and parmesan in a food processor while streaming in some extra virgin olive oil. Because the sauce has juicy tomatoes as a main ingredient, less oil is required for the sauce to form in this recipe than a traditional pesto (which actually has quite a bit of oil in it, sometimes as much as half a cup).

Originating in Trapani, a port town on the western coast of Sicily, pesto all Trapanese is an authentically local recipe, served either with pasta or even as a sauce under a nice piece of fish (a nice hunk of cod would be delicious). Mine came out great, with a lovely robust flavor and a silky texture somewhere between tomato sauce and a heavy pesto. It was a perfect dish alongside simply roasted asparagus. I'm already imagining a version where the tomatoes are roasted or charred over an open flame to add yet another layer of flavor. Until I get my hands on another batch of tomatoes I'd highly recommend this recipe to anyone looking for a quick supper. The sauce itself is completely no-cook and comes together in the time it would take to boil a pound of pasta or roast a nice piece of fish. If you're unable to find good full sized tomatoes and are absolutely dying to try this recipe, America's Test Kitchen has used cherry and grape tomatoes to great effect in their version, so I suggest that as an alternative in a case of emergency.

Pesto alla Trapanese

1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds (must be skinless)
3 medium sized tomatoes, quartered (or 2 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes)
1/2 cup basil leaves
1 medium garlic clove
1 small pepperoncini (or 1/4 tsp red pepper flake and 1/2 tsp vinegar)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

1. Toast almonds in a skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant. Allow a few minutes to cool, then add to a food processor along with tomatoes, garlic, basil, pepperoncini (or red pepper flake and vinegar) and salt, and process until smooth, about a minute.

2. Slowly drizzle in the oil while the processor is running, remembering to scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary. When the sauce is done, mix in the parmesan cheese and serve over cooked pasta or roasted fish. Enjoy!


1 comment:

The Food Hunter said...

I love this tomato pesto...and you're right I think it would go really well with a piece of cod. I clipped it and can't wait to try making some.