Tag Archives: Pesto

MATARROCCU, a Sicilian pesto

At this time of year basil is plentiful and many of us enjoy pasta with pesto, so it is time to revisit a post I first wrote in February, 2009 about the Sicilian pesto called Mataroccu (and also Ammogghia in some parts of Sicily).

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The name pesto comes from the word for pestle or to pound. The ingredients are pounded in a mortar and the results are much sweeter than ingredients chopped in a food processor – the differences are much the same as the results obtained from chopping herbs by hand and using a food processor fitted with the steel blade (will taste grassy).

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Most associate pesto with the traditional combination of basil, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and good quality grated cheese; pesto originates from the region of Liguria.

Some of us would be amused about the way that Ligurians discuss a genuine pesto- Ligurian pesto can only be made with basil grown in Genoa and close environs (region of Liguria) and that Ligurians generally use as the cheese component, half Parmigiano and half Pecorino sardo – Sardinian (sardo) Pecorino is a much sweeter tasting and less salty than other pecorino. As it should be, Pecorino is made from sheeps’ milk – the word pecora is Italian for sheep.

To dress pasta, also like to make a Sicilian alternative, a pesto from around Trapani – Mataroccu or Ammogghia and sometimes Pesto Pantesco (if it is from the island of Pantelleria, south-west of Sicily).

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As expected there are different regional versions of the same pistu (Sicilian word for pesto)  It contains similar ingredients as the Ligurian pesto but also raw, fresh, ripe tomatoes, which at this time of year, like basil, should not be a problem. Some Trapanesi prefer to use blanched almonds instead of the pine nuts.

I never weigh ingredients when I make pesto, but the following amounts should provide a balanced sauce for pasta. As I may have written at other times, in Australia we tend to overdress our pasta – the pesto should coat the pasta (and it is assumed that you will use good quality, durum wheat pasta) but not overpower the taste.

INGREDIENTS:
almonds or pine nuts, 1 cup
garlic, 8-10 cloves,
ripe tomatoes,  400g, peeled, seeded, and chopped
basil, 1 ½ cups loose leaves
parsley ½ cup, cut finely
extra virgin olive oil (your most fragrant), about 1 cup or as much as the pesto absorbs
salt, and red pepper flakes to taste

PREPARATION:
Pound garlic in a mortar with a little salt to obtain a paste (I like it fine but with some uneven bits).
Add some of the tomato, some herbs and a little oil and pound some more.
Keep on adding a few ingredients at the time, till they have all been used and until you have a homogeneous, smooth sauce.

Because we live in a modern age you may wish to use a food processor.  First grind the nuts. Add the rest of the ingredients gradually and process until creamy.

 

 

 

TROTA CON SALSA SARACINA (PAN FRIED TROUT with Saracen, green olive sauce)

Once upon a time in Australia, Tartare sauce was about the only sauce that was served with fish and usually this was battered. Generally the ingredients for Tartare sauce included gherkins, chives, parsley and mayonnaise. If you were lucky, there may have been capers and or tarragon.

These days Tartare sauce continues to be very common in Australia, however increasingly so Australian cuisine reflects the cultural influences of the diverse cultures that have settled in Australia. For example, it is now not unusual to have one of the following sauces as an accompaniment, a charmoula (Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian) or a Nuoc Cham Gung (Vietnamese) or a salsa verde (Italian).

The less fiddling with this trout the better so I pan fried it and simply presented it with a dollop of a Sicilian sauce called Salsa Saracina; this sauce is particularly suitable for plainly cooked fish.

Salsa Saracina (Saracen sauce) is a cooked sauce made with that particular set of ingredients which are so common to Sicilian cooking – olives, sugar, pine nuts, saffron and sun dried sultanas. Apart from the olives, the other ingredients are attributed to the Arabs who settled in Sicily and at one time in history they were referred to as Saracens.

This sauce keeps very well for a few weeks when stored in the fridge. Place the sauce into a clean jar and press the contents down to eliminate air bubbles. Top it with a little extra virgin olive oil to seal it and always repeat the process if you remove some from the jar. This sauce is always served cold.

I hardly ever cook without using herbs and on this occasion I used the tops of a bulb of fennel and some spring onions. Other favourite herbs when pan-frying fish are fresh bay leaves, rosemary or thyme.

If the trout is a large one and you feel that it may need more cooking, once you have added the wine cover the fish with a lid and cook it until it is cooked to your liking. Once the fish is cooked, remove the lid and if there is too much liquid, evaporate it.

INGREDIENTS
trout, as many as you need
herbs, fresh
white wine, ¼ cup per fish
extra virgin olive oil,to fry the fish
spring onions, left whole with a part of the tops removed

See: SALSA SARACINA (Saracen sauce)

Make the sauce before hand.

PROCESSES
For the fish:
Dry the trout, sprinkle with a little salt and pan-fry the fish in a little extra virgin olive oil and the herbs.
Turn once and about a minute before it is cooked to your liking add the wine and evaporate. This will result in a small amount of sauce, which you can dribble on the plate before placing the fish on it.
Present the fish with a dollop of Salsa Saracina on the side.

This one fish was sufficient for 2 people – it is easily filleted at the table.

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PESTO GENOVESE CON TRIOFE, FAGGIOLINI E PATATE (Pesto with pasta, green beans and potatoes)

I visited friends recently who have a small, but very prolific vegetable garden – they have chooks, and that means fertilizer. I came home with huge bunches of basil and I made pesto. At this time of year it very handy to have pesto as standby in the fridge – in fact I have fed two lots of visitors pesto this week, this version with beans last night.

Those of you who grow basil in your gardens probably do not want to hear about pesto ever again, but maybe you do not know about the classic recipe of pesto and triofe (Ligurian classic shape of pasta for this dish), green beans and potatoes (last night I omitted the potatoes – see photo). I was reminded of this dish when I saw the film  Summer in Genova recently. In the film, Colin Firth cooked this dish for his two daughters, a16-year-old and ten-year-old (all the children I know seem to like pesto). Their mother dies in a car accident and the family moves to Genova in Liguria – a new city, new start and a new recipe (one their mother had not cooked). There is probably only one positive thing that I can say about this film, and that is that it reminded me to cook this classic recipe.

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It is very simple to compose this dish – the potatoes and beans are cooked in the same water as the pasta, drained and dressed with the pesto.

Some of you may be aware that pesto alla Genovese can only be made exclusively from ingredients grown in that small area in northwest Italy called Liguria. This is the area where pesto originated and the Ligurians want to give it a D.O.P. status (Protected Designation of Origin) and it cannot be called pesto unless it comes from that part of the world.

However I do make pesto as many of us do with plenty of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, basil leaves and the mixture of parmigiano and pecorino.  (See post called SICILIAN PESTO – Mataroccu for an alternative recipe). If I am storing the pesto in the fridge, I always top it with olive oil to stop the oxidation.

See post called SICILIAN PESTO – Mataroccu for an alternative recipe.

For 500g pasta I use about 300g of green beans cut diagonally to the length of the pasta (triofe are like penne in length) and 200g potatoes cut into small cubes (if I am using them). Ligurians tend to cook the vegetables and the pasta at the same time, but I like to stagger their cooking time, mainly to preserve some crunch to the beans.

The potatoes may take the longest time to cook, so begin by placing the potatoes into a large saucepan  of cold, salted water.
Bring to the boil and cook the potatoes for about 10 mins before adding the pasta.
Add the beans  about 7 mins before the pasta and potatoes are cooked.
Drain, coat the pasta and vegetables with pesto and add the cheese last of all.

Easy, very fragrant, different, and much appreciated, especially by those who have never made fresh pesto.

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

I was discussing travelling in Italy and regional food (frequent topics of conversation) with an acquaintance, who told me that she and her daughter had really enjoyed travelling in Tuscany and had eaten a wonderful pasta dish with walnuts. She had no idea what it was; she had tried to work this out from recipe books but to no avail. She said that the sauce was very fragrant.

I think it must have been pesto di noci, very common in Liguria, home of pesto alla genovese (the one with pine nuts and basil).

I first ate this in Genova. My cousin Rosadele prepared this for me when I first visited her many years ago (to meet our respective, then husbands). Being autumn, she made this sauce to accompany agnolotti (pasta shaped like half moons/ hers were stuffed with ricotta and stracchino). She is a wonderful cook. Her mother, from Piedmont was also a very skilled cook, and between the two of them, there was always alchemy in their kitchens.

Although I promised this recipe to my acquaintance, I have been a little reluctant to post it in winter – it is made with fresh marjoram, and those of you who grow it and live in the colder states, will know that marjoram is dormant at this time of year. It hates hard winters and frost. However, if you have planted marjoram somewhere sheltered from the cold, and in a sunny location or even kept it indoors in a sunny spot, you may still have this herb. Taking one’s plant indoors is quite a common practice for people in England. My plant of marjoram, which was doing quite well on my balcony till about a month ago, now looks dead. I did check at The Queen Victoria Market this week to see if there were bunches of marjoram available, and there were.
Traditionally because it is a pesto, it is made with a mortar and pestle (see my recipe for Sicilian pesto), but I admit that with these ingredients a blender has worked well for me ( unlike basil which is likely to taste grassy if blended).

INGREDIENTS
walnuts, 500g
marjoram and parsley, 4 tablespoons of each, chopped
ricotta, 250 g
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
garlic, 1-2 cloves
water, 1 tablespoon
salt, to taste
butter or thick cream, 2 tablespoons
grated nutmeg, a little
pasta, 400-500g (trofie – Ligurian, traditional shape)

PROCESSES
Blend walnuts, oil and garlic – add chopped herbs, salt and blend some more.
Add water and butter/ cream and pulse blender to the desired consistency.
Cook pasta.
Stir in the ricotta and nutmeg in the sauce.
Drain the pasta but reserve approx ½ cup of hot pasta water to stir into sauce just before serving (to warm the sauce).
Combine sauce with pasta and serve.

Grated parmigiano can be added – I prefer it without.

Do not get confused with oregano and marjoram (many do). The genus name for both is origanum. Marjoram (origanum majorana) is also called sweet marjoram or knotted marjoram. It has a softer leaf and stem, it is paler in colour, the flavour is milder, sweeter and it is very aromatic. Marjoram leaves are best when fresh.

Oregano is a very common herb in Sicily, but not marjoram – this herb is generally used only in the northern part of Italy.
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