Nigella and Pasta

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Nigella Lawson is my favorite TV chef. Not just because she is pretty and has a cool accent, but because she’s hysterically funny and loves eating and sharing food.

When I think of Nigella, I immediately think of cake, because it’s obvious she loves cake if you’ve read any of her cookbooks. But after cake, I think pasta. This is a woman who doesn’t worry about carbs or maintaining a gluten-free diet. She eats pasta with gusto.

So I found a unique pasta on her website, http://www.nigella.com/ to celebrate pasta and Ms. Nigella Lawson. It was a pasta I’ve never come across before.

This pasta recipe, called Pesto Trapanese, originates from the Italian city of Trapani, on Sicily’s westernmost tip. Geographically, Trapani is closer to the country of Tunisia so its local food has been defined by both Italian and Tunisian ingredients.

As a result, this pesto bears no resemblance to the popular basil pesto with which we’re familiar from northern Italy. Instead, it is a savory-sweet combination of tomatoes, raisins, and almonds with the addition of anchovies and capers. Intrigued? I was!

Sicilian Pasta with tomatoes, Garlic and Almonds

1 pound pasta of your choice, I chose pappardelle
9 ounces cherry tomatoes*
6 anchovy fillets
1 ounce golden sultanas
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons capers, well drained
2 ounces blanched almonds
2 ounces olive oil
Cayenne pepper flakes to taste
Grated Parmesan
Chiffonade of basil leaves, optional

Pappardelle are a beautiful pasta.

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Cook your pasta according to package directions in salted water.

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Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, anchovies, sultanas, garlic, capers and almonds in the jar of your food processor. Add the 2 ounces of oil and process until smooth.

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Ms. Lawson also recommends using about 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water in the pesto sauce.

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Without pasta water, mine looked like this, so I didn’t add any water.

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Drain the pasta, then put in a large serving bowl. Immediately add the tomato mixture and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. I definitely added cayenne pepper flakes. Serve with some grated Parmesan and a few basil leaves, if desired.

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* I thought the tomato skins would be problematic, but they weren’t !

verdict: At first bite, I wasn’t really sure what I thought. Then, it was immediately addicting. Within a split second. You first taste the anchovies, capers, and garlic, then you feel the texture from the almonds, and then there’s the occasional sweetness from the raisins. What an unbelievable pasta sauce. I can see why Nigella eats it cold…

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From Nigella:
“I have come across more than one version of “pesto Trapanese”, the Sicilian pasta sauce from Trapani that differs from the more popularly known Genoese variety in a number of ways. Chief of these is that almonds, not pine nuts, are ground into the mix – a divergence whose origins (in common with a lot of Sicilian food) owe much to Arabic cooking.

I like to use fusilli lunghi, which are like long golden ringlets (or, less poetically, telephone cords) but, if you can’t find them, simply substitute regulation-size fusilli (or indeed any pasta of your choice).

Since the sauce is unheated, it would be wise to warm the serving bowl first but, having said that, I absolutely adore eating this Sicilian pasta cold, should any be left over. It is so easy to make and, being both simple and spectacular, is first on my list for a pasta dish to serve when you have people round.”

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53 thoughts on “Nigella and Pasta

  1. I love Nigella she is one of my favorites, I have made several of her pasta recipes and they are very good. Never saw this one before it also sounds fantastic. It’s quick and easy just how I like it. Thanks for sharing this, adding to my must try’s.

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  2. I haven’t had pasta in a while! I might have to give this one a go! Sounds delicious! I love anchovies cooked into a recipe. As a topping on pizza, not so much. I’ve tried eating them on their own (tapas style) a couple different times. Again, that didn’t work for me. But I love them in sauces and dressings! Thanks for sharing!!

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  3. Nigella is a UK institution! She is the daughter of a famous politician and she lost a husband years ago to cancer (it was a sad thing) and remarried to an equally famous advertising guru (Sachi I think), We love her because she really does a theatrical thing on the tele – all pouting and purring while she sticks her head in the fridge. Mind you in the past year she’s lost loads of weight so I suspect she isn’t eating what she’s cooking!

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    • Satchi is a well known art collector I think… I only know this because my daughter works in antiques in London. Nigella will always be beautiful to me, no matter her weight!

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  4. I have had pesto Trapanese on my to try list for some time. We follow a Sicilian TV detective series, “Montalbano” on which food features quite highly. This pasta sauce has been mentioned quite a few times. Thanks for providing the recipe.

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  5. Great post! It looks beautiful. You know how I feel about Nigella. She’s one of my food heroes and I got to speak to her via video chat.. That was so incredible. This recipe looks amazing! Good choice!

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  6. Ciao chef Mimi … I’m also a great fan of Nigella’s … and appreciate her desire to cut corners sometimes, for the sake of practicality and time, etc. not to mention inventiveness! To me she is a genuine, intuitive cook whose eye for detail is accompanied by a joyful and childlike desire to share, comfort, excite and delight. I am sure this recipe tastes absolutely marvellous so I am in no way criticising the dish. However, I do get a little upset when an Italian/regional recipe provided by a non-local misses the mark in terms of authenticity. The Pesto alla Trapanese (also called “agghiata trapanisa” – agghiata being a reference to ‘aglio’ or garlic) was probably indeed a Sicilian interpretation of the Genoese pesto — many Genoese ships would pass through the port at Trapani and probably showed the locals how they made pesto. And the locals converted the recipe using ingredients that were their own: almonds and tomatoes AND pecorino AND fresh basil leaves. But no anchovies, no, and no raisins either. Again, I don’t want to come over as being a frowning frumpy party-pooper commentator. I just like the idea that people should know about the real thing. How they then choose to reinterpret or add or subtract is eminently up to them!

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    • But also don’t you think that there are so many versions of this dish depe ding on the family, the neighborhood, the region, etc. I just don’t care. If I did, I would just google everything and sound like Wikipedia. The same “Authentic” and “traditional” dishes are different in everyone’s families for so many different reasons. And, Geography plays a huge part in food history. So you’re probably both right!

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      • I just came from Trapani actually and it is true that the pesto trapanese differs between restaurants. None of them was even close to Nigella’s though; especially the sheer number of ingredients does not seem ‘Italian’ to me. Almonds, raw tomatoes and garlic seem to be the most important ingredients. The traditional pasta for this sauce is called busiate and does indeed resemble a piece of telephone cord. I will do a post on busiate al trapanese soon…

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      • Oh good! The pasta itself looks so interesting! Try this sauce once, though – it doesn’t make much – and see what you think. I know you’re a purist when it comes to Italian cuisine, but this was so good!

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      • I’m mostly purist whem it comes to names. I believe that Nigella’s pasta sauce is good, I just don’t think it should be called trapanese because it’s confusing. I wonder what would happen if non-purists were to order a big mac and got a whopper instead ;-) (This also shows what I think non-purists eat ;-) )

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      • I’ve honestly never had a whopper or Big Mac, although I appreciate your analogy. Thing is, I don’t think that Big Macs change with neighborhoods, counties, towns, etc. but I think pastas are different wherever you are. Take Giuliani bugiali’s recipes – you seriously feel that the Italian food police are coming after you… if you don’t follow the recipe exactly!

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      • I suppose I would consider a variation of a recipe to be authentic if it is prepared (or used to be) like that by a substantial percentage of Italians of the relevant region. You are right that there is less variation in the fast food example ;-)

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  7. I can’t speak to the issue of anchovies or not (lots of versions seem to include them), but the nuts + raisins + garlic is common Sicilian and southern Italy, and is probably Arabic in origin. (The 11th century must have been an interesting time in the southern Apennine Peninsula.) I first encountered it with broccoli rabe. Both ways (and I’d vote to keep the anchovies) sound great. Ken

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  8. This looks amazing! Sicily is known for its almonds, which can be found in many dishes, and as it was property of the Moors for a long time, middle eastern flavors are more common than in the rest of Italy. I will be sure to make this (love Nigella too..)

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