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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.