Busiati with Pesto alla Trapanese

I love pesto. It is a simple but very flavorful pasta dish to make, and has many variations. Most people are familiar with classic Italian pesto, the basil, Parmigiano, pine nut sauce from Genova. But Italian cuisine has more than one kind of pesto.

The name “pesto” comes from the Italian word pestare, “to crush” or “to grind.” Pesto is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle (ah ha, now you see where mortar and pestle comes from, don’t you?), by patiently crushing the ingredients to a smooth condiment.

Pesto alla Genovese, the most commonly-known pesto outside of Italy, originates from Genova; pesto alla Trapanese originates from Trapani, a port town in Sicily that juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea like a backwards C. In Sicilian, it’s called pasta all’agghia or agghiata trapanisa. Its inspiration is said to have come from the “original” pesto: Genovese ships arriving from the Orient stopped by the Trapani port with one of their favorite dishes. It was not, you might be thinking, today’s basil pesto alla Genovese. At the time, it was a simple agliata, a pesto made from garlic and walnuts. (We can get into the history of pesto alla Genovese another time)

Trapani, Sicily. Photo from Jadwiga, Creative Commons
Trapani, Sicily. Photo from Jadwiga, Creative Commons. Modified.

The Trapanese adapted the recipe to utilize their local ingredients, which were almonds and tomatoes.

Italians are sticklers for tradition, so I have to admit: this is not The Recipe for pesto alla Trapanese. I made what I thought was a traditional recipe and was unimpressed. Maybe I didn’t find a great recipe; maybe I just couldn’t make it all that well. There are plenty of “original” recipes I found online (and this was searching in Italian), some that use pine nuts, others that use dried tomatoes. A common method is to peel the cherry tomatoes and mash them into the pesto; and some sources say that ricotta is the primary cheese to use (others use no cheese at all!).

In Pesto alla Trapanese alla my way, take out the cherry tomatoes from the pesto. Quarter or dice them, and sauté them in olive oil—then add the pesto. And use pecorino for its sharp tang.

In the same way that Italians are traditional in recipes, they are traditional in the correct forms of pasta that go with each dish. In this case, busiati are most often used (pictured below), but fusilli—or another pasta shape with lots of ridges to pick up the bits of pesto—work if you don’t have busiati on hand. The name “busiati,” by the way, likely comes from the handmade pasta in the Buseto (TP) area of Sicily, where a native reed that grows well in arid, sandy areas (ampelodesma, or Ampelodesmos mauritanicus) was used to hand-roll the pasta into its characteristic shape.

Pasta with Pesto alla Trapanese

Busiati with Pesto alla Trapanese

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:
50 gr peeled almonds
30 gr basil
20 gr grated Pecorino cheese
½ garlic clove (or the runt clove in the litter)
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
10-12 cherry tomatoes

Method:
1) Chop up the cherry tomatoes into quarters or smaller. Sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil, adding a tablespoon of water if it starts sticking and letting the sauce thicken. Put a large pot of heated, salted water to boil.
2) In a food processor, or a mortar and pestle if preferred, grind the rest of the ingredients to form a textured pesto (not too chunky, but not perfectly smooth).
3) While the pasta is boiling according to package instructions, add the pesto to the tomatoes and sauté for a few minutes; you want to cook the garlic that’s in the pesto and combine the flavors. If it looks too thick, add a few tablespoons of pasta water.
4) Drain pasta, mix with the pesto, and serve.

How the pesto should look before adding to the tomatoes
How the pesto should look before adding to the tomatoes

Serving size is approximate according to how much pesto you like on your pasta. The pesto keeps in the fridge for 2 days, and freezes well.


This is part of my Italian Pasta Journey. I want to explore Italy by way of its huge variety of traditional pasta dishes. Check out my post and the other recipes as I add them.

Sources used:
Turismo Trapanihttp://www.turismo.trapani.it/en/home.html

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10 thoughts on “Busiati with Pesto alla Trapanese

  1. My mother’s family is from northeastern Sicily, so I’m not familiar with making this dish. A few years ago, I went to Trapani and Erice for a couple of days but ate couscous instead! I would love to give this a go as I love almonds. I will have to get a new pestle though as I dropped mine and it broke. So annoyed, as it was one of my favourite kitchen tools…

    By the way, a little historical aside about Genoese pesto. Once, basil, parsley or marjoram (basically, whatever was available) and onion (!) were used and it actually took a long time for the pine nuts to make their way into what’s become the ‘standardised’ recipe. It wasn’t always used for pasta either but for minestrone. I would say that all that variation you found with the Trapanese version is a reflection of the fact that there haven’t been attempts to standardise it like its Genoese counterpart. Let’s hope that it stays that way!

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    1. That’s so interesting about the pesto alla genovese. I’ll be using that info when I write about it! And onion? That’s quite different. I can see how good pesto would be in a minestrone, and actually I often add leftover pesto to vegetable soups and such.

      I use a food processor myself, though a mortar and pestle is supposed to give better results. But I imagine grinding almonds in a mortar and pestle would be difficult (pine nuts are softer).

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    1. I do too! I love all the different kinds of pesto there are. The next pesto I want to make is walnut pesto (but it’s another trail-and-error recipe, since the ones I’ve found haven’t been too great).

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  2. That dish is definitely going on my ‘to cook’ list 🙂 I’m from Malta, we try to make our own pesto, which is also normally a blend of basil which we grow ourselves, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. I have tried it using walnuts but didn’t quite have the same flavour, and I also tried sun dried tomatoes, and it was delicious but over powering.

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    1. The thing I love about pesto is that it has so many variations. Glad this inspired you to try it! I also have a great hazelnut, olive, caper, sun dried tomato pesto I make. That will eventually go on my pasta journey list (but first, the traditional recipes 🙂 )

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  3. Love love love pesto, in all of its forms. I’ve tried to make a recipe similar to this using ricotta and had a similar experience – it was ‘okay’ but nothing to go crazy for. I like the idea of using pecorino for a bit a of a kick and almonds sound lovely considering pine nuts cost a fortune at the moment. Can’t wait to try this!

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