Reading, Not Cooking…Eating, Not Talking

My husband does not cook. Well, he can cook, but long ago, he ceded the cooking to me – better for a harmonious household when there is only one cook in the kitchen. However, he does own two cookbooks, both purchased after marathon reading sessions – each time going through the complete published works of a favoured author.

The first one was Lobscouse & Spotted Dog, described as a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels (better known as Master & Commander) of Patrick O’Brian. Despite spousal entreaties, I refused be interested in tinned corn beef, pig hearts & lungs, and mountains of dried peas. Nor did hard tack appeal. I really shouldn’t disparage the book. It is not entirely about shipboard privations and does have a number of good, practical adaptations of late 18th- /early 19th-century historical recipes – all of which were mentioned in one book or another in the Patrick O’Brian series.

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My husband’s other cookbook is a recent Kindle acquisition, I segreti della tavola di Montalbano. Yes, he has read through Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian detective fiction, most in English translation, but – as a sign of his devotion – one or two in the original Italian/Sicilian. We also have all the DVDs of the Italian TV productions based on Camilleri’s fictional detective, Salvo Montalbano. Obviously, I was being sent another message. This time the food appealed.

fennel_pasta

Pasta with Fennel Pesto & Grilled Cherry Tomatoes
Montalbano is a pesto fan and has been known to argue with his cook/housekeeper, Adelina, over the culinary delights of Trapanese pesto. My pesto is not a traditional tomato, almond and basil pesto from the Sicilian town of Trapani. Mine is fennel based, and although there are similar fennel frond pesto recipes out there, I created this one as a blend of Sicilian flavours, in the spirit of Andrea Camilleri’s food loving detective, Montalbano, who has one rule for the table – no talking while eating.

fennel_pesto

Fennel Pesto

  • 1 packed cup fennel fronds – approximately 6 to 8 fronds from a herb fennel or from the tops of bulb fennel
  • 2 mint sprigs
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, mashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons (1 oz.) flaked (slivered) almonds

Remove the tougher stems from the fennel. Blanch your fennel fronds in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and run under cold water, squeeze dry. Pat the fennel on paper towels. Roughly chop the fennel and the mint leaves plucked from the sprigs. Using the side of your knife, mash the garlic clove with the sea salt until it is reduced to pulp. Add these and the other ingredients to a Moulinex or blender. Process until smooth and the fennel is reduced to flecks of green thickly suspended in the oil.

roast_cherry_tomatoes

Grilled Tomatoes

  • 400g. (14 oz.) Cherry Tomatoes
  • 2 to 3 peperoncini or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Clean the cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Lightly grease a shallow roasting tin or casserole with some of the olive oil and place your tomatoes, cut side up, in one layer. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle on the peperoncini/red pepper flakes. Place in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until they appear slightly blistered.

fennel_pasta_feature

Assemble Pasta

  • Fennel Pesto (above)
  • Grilled Tomatoes (above)
  • 500g. (17.6oz.) pasta of choice – ziti, fusilli, farfalle, linguini or even spaghetti are good choices for pesto
  • 85g. (3 oz.) Parmesan or Ricotta salata

In a large pot or two-part pasta pot, heat up plenty of salted water. When the water has reached the boiling point, add your dried pasta. Time it according to the instructions on the packet, minus 1 minute. Stir occasionally to make sure the pasta does not stick together.

Meanwhile, in a wide pot, large enough to hold the pasta, add the fennel pesto. Just before the pasta is finished cooking, turn the heat on to medium. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta directly to the fennel pesto, lifting and mixing until the pesto is coating the pasta. Add a large ladleful of pasta water and continue lifting and mixing the pasta until the water has evaporated, leaving a sheen on the pasta. Add about half of the grated cheese and mix, then gently spoon in the roasted cherry tomatoes and their juices, folding carefully into the pasta.

Serve either on individual plates or in a wide shallow bowl. Grate the remaining Parmesan or ricotta on top.

fennel_june_garden

Postscript:
For a hilarious, but surprisingly helpful, guide on cooking pasta (like a Sicilian Godmother) comes from the amusing blog The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife. I have also noticed that this is the third Montalbano inspired recipe I’ve written about – the first, caponata, and the second, pasta con sarde. It looks like I am on my way to producing my own version of I segreti della tavola di Montalbano.

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16 comments

  1. I love fennel. What a great way to use those lovely green tops. I had never heard of Pesto Trapanese until I watched Montalbano. We too own all the books and DVDs, but I didn’t know about the recipe book.

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    • I knew you were another Montalbano fan! After watching the DVDs numerous times (I’ve forgotten how many), I find myself cataloguing the food mentioned. And, after being in Sicily, I can really appreciate Montalbano’s fascination with Sicilian cuisine. I should have a go at Trapanese pesto some time – it looks like a basil pesto using almonds instead of pine nuts and has the addition of fresh tomato. I think the cookbook is only in Italian and may only be kindle.

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      • Deb pesto trapenese is delicious! It’s perfect for summer when the tomatoes are at their best. My Italian is probably just good enough to make it worthwhile picking up the Kindle recipe book…..

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      • I’ve never tried the Trapenese pesto – one of those things not done while there. I have it on reliable source (The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife) that the recipes out there on the web are unauthentic. I’m hoping she will post a *real* recipe! The book is a slight disappointment – the standard stuff, but still good food only unoriginal – so I can only conclude it is trading on the Montalbano name.

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  2. Wow, being italian and liking Camilleri and Montalbano I like that your husband own that book! :)…also cos I have other books from that collection “leggere รจ un gusto” and they’re all inspiring!
    I love this pasta you made… I close my eyes I see sicilian sea and I imagine to eat it in front of it! ๐Ÿ™‚ wow!

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    • The pesto is really great. It is also good on fish. I hadn’t realised that the book was part of a series. Must look out for the rest. I’m always nervous writing about Italian food – pasta in particular – wondering what Italians might think! Really glad you liked it.

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  3. Hello! I love your blog, and thanks for the link-back to mine!
    BTW does your Montalbano cook book have the recipe for proper SIcilian pesto? I mean the spicy red stuff with tomatoes, achovies, pine nuts, chilli and ricotta cheese? It really is the bees’ knees.
    I have been looking for recipes online and every one I have found is completely unauthentic…. I may have to do a blog post about it! … unless you can beat me to it ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • I love your blog, too. Both you and your northern counterpart, Pecora Nera, often have me in stitches. I’m afraid that the recipe book does not have proper Sicilian pesto. In fact, the book is a slight bit of a disappointment regarding food – more a gimmick, I suspect. If you do make the *proper* stuff, please post about it. I’d love to have the recipe.

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    • I have such a huge amount of herb fennel in my herb garden that I’m always on the lookout for ways of using it. It is not the bulb vegetable, simply lots of fronds and later it will produce lovely seed heads which I harvest. The pesto is really good and I’ve seen similar recipes that use the fronds from the tops of the bulb type. I think your daughter will love it. I also tried it on fish fillets – a natural use for fennel and yummy!

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    • This pesto is made from the fennel fronds, so you can have a thinly sliced fennel (bulb) salad AND this pesto! I also put the fresh fonds in salads – very tasty – more anise flavour than chevril, also another favourite, but difficult to find if you don’t grow it yourself.

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