“There are places you leave. And places that never leave you.”
A bunch of years ago, I was on a mission to visit as many islands off the coast of Italy as I possibly could. I was knocking them off as fast as I researched them – Sardinia, Elba, Capri, Aeolian Islands. (I had just divorced and had a lot of time on my hands!) One island still holds a very special place in my heart – Pantelleria, a tiny, windswept island off the southern coast of Sicily, nicknamed ‘Daughter of the Wind’ for good reason. I had traveled there in Summer of 2008 in search of their famed capers and fell in love with the amazing spirit of the island – so much so that I returned again in the Fall of that same year. (You can read more about those adventures in these posts: Hugged by an Island and Postcard from Pantelleria and lastly, the Magical Island of Pantelleria!)
This tiny speck of an island lies in the straits between Sicily and Tunisia (actually closer to Tunisia). Stunning crystal blue water rings the island. Olive trees and grapevines grow behind walled gardens know as ‘giardini arabi’ that help protect them from the island winds. Caper plants spring from every nook and cranny amongst its lava strewn shores.
The laid back vibe on the island lent itself to long lazy afternoons spent seaside or tucked away in a cool dome shaped home, known as dammusi. Lunches are lengthy affairs with the beautiful island breeze carrying scents of wild fennel. Local dishes are heavily influenced by its proximity to Africa. Mint mingles with the usual Italian herbs such as parsley and basil. Almonds replace pine nuts. The freshest of clams and fish are nestled in flavorful beds of couscous.
They make a wonderful Pantescan pesto on the island, rich with flavor from luscious summer-ripe tomatoes, almonds and the local famed capers. This recipe followed me home and I make it time and time again, every summer when tomatoes are at their peak. It is perfect for a hot summer’s day as it requires no cooking, other than for the pasta. It is also a fantastic topping for grilled fish or chicken or served simply on a fire-toasted piece of crusty bread.
So as the summer heat continues on, enjoy that time in the shade while this recipe from this magical little island that will help keep you out of the kitchen.
Happy summer! Buon estate!
Pasta with Pesto Pantesco
This unusual pesto is from Pantelleria and is made with their famed capers, summer-ripe tomatoes and almonds. It is perfect for a hot summer’s day as it requires little kitchen time!
- Yield: 4 main-course portions 1x
4 large, ripe tomatoes, about 2 pounds
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons capers (drained if in water; soaked and rinsed if in salt)
½ cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound of your favorite pasta
Peel the tomatoes: Fill a pot large enough to hold the tomatoes with water and bring to a boil. On each tomato, cut an ‘X’ (about 2 inches in length) in the bottom of the tomato using a sharp knife. Drop in the boiling water for 30 seconds and remove. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin away from the tomatoes. Roughly dice the tomatoes, removing any seeds. Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes to allow excess moisture to drain out.
In a blender or food processor, place the garlic, basil, parsley, mint, capers, and almonds. Process until roughly chopped. Add in the chopped tomatoes and the olive oil to the blender or food processor and blend until smooth but still a little bit chunky. Transfer to a bowl. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit at room temperature while you prepare the pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until just al dente. Drain.
Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and toss with the pesto. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and serve!