I was shocked to discover that I haven’t posted on the blog since February. Lockdown fatigue had set in, and I had relapsed into cooking easy, familiar recipes (or succumbing to fancy take-aways) rather than trying out new dishes. Now that regulations have loosened a little, and the spring weather has improved, I have been enjoying meeting friends for walks and al-fresco lunches rather than spending time in the kitchen. So it took a kind gift from one of those friends – a packet of busiate with squid ink, brought back from a trip to Sicily in the before-time when such things were possible – to nudge me into cooking something new.
After fruitlessly checking all my Italian cookbooks for mention of busiate, I thought to search Rachel Roddy’s recipes on the Guardian online. Her partner is Sicilian so they spend summers there and she often posts Sicilian recipes. That’s where I found this recipe for Pesto alla Trapanese, a delicious vegan pesto for which busiate is the recommended pasta – though if you don’t have a good Italian deli nearby (or friends who can bring it back from Sicily for you) then casarecce or spaghetti also work fine. The black squid ink pasta made the dish look rather melodramatic and added a taste of the sea. The sauce tastes just as good with regular spaghetti.
I used most of one of those little plants of basil that you can get at the supermarket and some small ripe tomatoes, which were fiddly to skin but tasty. These quantities made enough for 2 very generous portions, with enough pesto left over to liven up some spaghetti for lunch the next day.
The griddled courgettes are optional but they did go very well with the pasta.
- 35g basil (weighed with stems)
- 50g blanched almonds
- 2 cloves garlic
- 75ml olive oil
- 150g ripe tomatoes
- 250g busiate or spaghetti
- 1 large or 2 small courgettes
- olive oil
- parmesan (optional)
Peel the tomatoes by cutting a cross at the stem end, putting them in a small bowl and covering them with boiling water. Leave for a minute or two, then drain and once they are cool enough to handle you should be able to peel the skins away easily. If your tomatoes are large cut them in four.
Pick the basil leaves from the stems and blitz them in a small blender or food processor with the blanched almonds, garlic, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once you have a smooth puree, add the tomatoes and blitz again. Season to taste. Put on a large pan of salted water to cook the pasta.
Heat a ridged griddle pan. Trim the ends of the courgettes and slice them lengthways or on the diagonal to give long thin fingers. Brush lightly with olive oil and griddle for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side until they are soft and golden with appetising grill-marks on them.
Once the pasta water has come to the boil add the pasta, stir and cook until al dente – the busiate took 9 minutes. Scoop out half a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pesto to the warm pan with a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pan and toss gently with a large fork and spoon or tongs, adding more pasta water if necessary, until the pasta is well coated.
Serve into pasta plates, add the courgettes and cover them with a good grating of parmesan (if you are using it – obviously not if you want the dish to be vegan).