Land, ho! It was “water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink” while on the high seas, but when it came time to port, those Genovese sailors treated themselves. And our palates are thankful. As the birthplace of Columbus and pesto sauce, the maritime powerhouse of Genoa launched the ships that sent the explorers around the world.
With what is now known as the Columbian Exchange, their culinary discoveries brought tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and peppers to European and Italian cuisine. In reverse, they also brought their food and cooking techniques with them as they traveled. As an example, pesto alla trapanese was concocted when Genovese sailors, resting in the ports of Trapani on the western tip of Sicily, used local ingredients in lieu of Ligurian ones to make their pesto sauce. Thus, local basil, garlic, tomatoes, pecorino cheese and almonds were substituted for the pine nuts, cheese, and basil of home. And instead of their hometown pasta of choice, trofie, they ate the local homemade pasta, busiati, which is made by twisting the pasta around the branch of a local tree.
Explore as you may, but you probably won’t find busiati around these parts, so you can either make it yourself, or you too can substitute with bucatini, linguine, or fusilli lunghi.
Check out our wine pairings to complement this dish.
In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the tomatoes for a minute or two, remove them to ice water, and peel and seed them. Next, blanch the almonds and peel them. If you have a mortar and pestle, pound the almonds, and then add the garlic and basil, crushing the ingredients along the walls, adding a drizzle of oil until the sauce becomes creamy. Then add the tomatoes and blend all ingredients together. (If using a food processor, grind the almonds first, then add the garlic and other ingredients.) Remove to a bowl and add the cheese.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, reserving some of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and mix the pesto sauce in, stirring as it is added. Add a drop or two of the cooking water if necessary. Garnish with a basil leaf. Serve immediately. The pasta can be eaten hot or cold.