Spaghetti and Pesto Trapanese
Pesto alla Trapanese
Pesto has become very familiar in American homes by now—that is, pesto made with fresh basil leaves, garlic, and pignoli nuts. Well, this one is different—it is an uncooked sauce freshly flavored with herbs, almonds, and tomatoes. It is a recipe I discovered in Sicily while researching for Lidia’s Italy, and I have received countless e-mails about this recipe, praising its simplicity and rich flavor. I am sure it will become one of your favorites.
serves 4 to 6
3/4 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) cherry tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
12 large fresh basil leaves
1 plump clove garlic, crushed and peeled
1/3 cup whole almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste, plus more for the pasta pot
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Rinse the cherry tomatoes and basil leaves, and pat them dry. Drop the tomatoes into a blender jar or food-processor bowl, followed by the basil leaves, garlic clove, the almonds, hot red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl, and blend again if any large bits or pieces have survived. With the machine still running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream, emulsifying the purée into a thick pesto. Taste, and adjust seasoning. (If you’re going to dress the pasta within a couple of hours, leave the pesto at room temperature. Refrigerate it for longer storage, up to 2 days, but let it return to room temperature before cooking the pasta.)
To cook the spaghetti, heat 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt, to the boil in a large pot. Slip in the spaghetti, and cook until al dente.
Scrape all the pesto into a big warm bowl. Lift the cooked spaghetti up, drain briefly, and drop directly into the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the spaghetti, sprinkle the cheese all over, and toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.
Cannoli NapoleonsCannolo a Strati
Traditional cannoli are crispy fried dough cylinders stuffed with ricotta cream. This version is made with deep-fried discs of cannoli, stacked high with layers of ricotta cream in between, just like a napoleon. It is a much easier technique, frying the discs rather than the tubular cannoli shells, and the finished cannoli taste as good as the traditional version but look quite contemporary.
makes 6 to 8 cannoli napoleons
for the pastry dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine, or as needed
for the cannoli cream:
1 pound (2 cups) fresh ricotta
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for decoration
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional, but very good!)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate (or 3 tablespoons bittersweet chips)
2 tablespoons candied orange rind
2 tablespoons almonds, toasted
1 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
Honey and grated chocolate for decoration
To make the dough: Put the flour, granulated sugar, and salt in a food-processor bowl, and process just to mix. Mix the olive oil, vinegar, and wine together in a measuring cup, and, with the machine running, pour all but 1 tablespoon of the liquid in; process for 20 seconds or so, until a dough gathers on the blade. If it feels hard and dry, sprinkle in the remaining liquid and process briefly, to make it moist and malleable. Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping any bits from the sides and blade, and knead by hand into a soft, smooth ball. Flatten to a disc, wrap very tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Make the pastry dough in the food processor a day or two—or at least 4 hours—in advance for the best texture.
To make the cannoli cream: Put the fresh ricotta in a fine-meshed sieve, and set it inside a bowl to drain for 12 to 24 hours in advance. Cover the ricotta with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
Whip the ricotta with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer until smooth. Whip in the confectioners’ sugar and Grand Marnier. Chop the chocolate (or chips) into coarse bits—big enough to bite into and to be visible. Coarsely chop the candied peel and almonds to the same size, about the size of raisins. Fold the chopped pieces into the cream; refrigerate until you assemble the cannoli.
Cut the pastry dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough to a rectangle 11 by 14 inches (or as close as possible). Use a round cookie cutter about 3 inches in diameter to cut discs. Set the rounds aside, on a lightly floured tray, to rest for 15 minutes before frying. Meanwhile, roll out and cut the remaining half of the dough the same way.
To fry the pastry, pour vegetable oil into a skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch, and set over medium heat. Use the point of a small, sharp knife to pierce each pastry round about ten times all over its surface, as though you were making pinpricks through the dough. (These tiny holes will prevent the pastry from ballooning when fried.)
Heat the oil until the edge of the dough sizzles gently when dipped into it, then lay in as many rounds as you can, 2 inches apart. Raise the heat to keep the oil temperature up (but lower it as soon as the sizzling gets too fast). Fry the rounds for about 3 minutes on the first side, pushing them under the oil occasionally to heat the top surface. As the tops begin to bubble, press with tongs to prevent big bubbles from ballooning—small bubbles are OK. When the bottom is golden brown, flip the rounds over and fry until evenly colored and crisp on both sides, about 2 more minutes. As soon as they’re done, lift them with tongs, let excess oil drip off, and lay them to drain on folded paper towels. Fry all the rounds this way, adding oil as needed and heating it between batches.
Assemble your cannoli napoleons: Set one round on the plate, drop about 1 ½ tablespoons of cannoli cream in the center, lay another round on top—sides aligned—and press gently to spread the cream. Drop on another layer of cream, cover with a third round, and press. Finally, shower the top of each napoleon with confectioners’ sugar and embellish with drizzles of honey or a sprinkle of finely grated chocolate and serve.
Escarole and White Bean SoupZuppa di Scarola e Cannellini
A southern-Italian specialty, this soup has been a favorite of Italian American immigrants through the generations and still is. It is easy to make, delicious, nutritious, and affordable—all the elements appreciated by those who brought it to this country, and by all of us today who make it in their honor.
1 1/2 cups dried cannellini, Great Northern, baby lima, or other small white beans
2 quarts water
2 fresh bay leaves, or 3 dried
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the finished soup
Salt to taste
6 cups (approximately 1 head) coarsely shredded escarole leaves (preferably the tough outer leaves), washed and drained
8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
4 to 6 whole dried peperoncini (hot red peppers)
Cold-soak the beans a few hours in advance: Dump them into a 2-to-3-quart container and pour in enough cold water to cover them by at least 4 inches. Let soak in a cool place for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain thoroughly.
Transfer the beans to a large stockpot. Pour in the 2 quarts water, toss in the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, pour in half of the olive oil, and cook until the beans are tender and only an inch of liquid remains, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season the beans to taste with salt, then stir in the escarole, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the escarole is quite tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and peppers, and cook, shaking the pan, until the peppers change color, about 1 minute or less. Remove from the heat, and carefully—it will sputter quite a bit—pour one ladleful of soup into the skillet. Swirl the pan to blend everything, and then stir the panful of seasoned soup back into the large pot. Check the seasoning, and let the soup rest off the heat, covered, 10 to 15 minutes.