When I first watched the array of ingredients wandering into the food processor in front of me I was, lets put this mildly, confused. Anchovies? Raisins? Almonds? Cherry tomatoes? How could this possibly make anything remotely tasty? Annie, our teacher at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, tried to reassure us that despite the odd sounding combination of ingredients this did make a delicious pesto; pesto siciliano. I didn’t really believe her but dutifully took a spoonful from the plate that circulated the classroom for the students to taste. However, the bewilderment at the ingredients list quickly turned to surprise and then delight. This pesto Siciliano, unlike most other pestos (particularly when they come out of a jar) is not oily at all and tastes incredibly fresh. Which means that post meal you don’t feel like rolling off your chair and into bed! Not just good classically with spaghetti but also a great canapé topping or good with crudités.
I’ve had a long love relationship with pesto for there was always at least one jar to be found in our store cupboard. Growing up my brother had a slightly obsessive relationship with food. When he liked something he would eat it repeatedly and so often until he suddenly got sick of it and then switched to something else. In fact, he became a connoisseur of particular food items having tried each and every variety. He worked his way around the filled pasta aisle at the supermarket (if you need an expert on fresh filled pasta in German supermarkets let me know), frozen pizza section and then landed with a large thump at the pesto section. Which lasted a while.
We ate our way through basil pesto, red pesto, pepper pesto, pesto with ricotta, coriander pesto, olive pesto and anything else that pasta sauce manufacturers dreamt up. My brother, never one for moderation would drown his plate of pasta in at least half the jar’s contents and top it with enough cheese to turn the plate into an Italian winter wonderland. Yes, an Italian would have been horrified. We loved it.
While we have both grown to enjoy things in moderation (well sometimes anyway), I still adore pesto. Yet I much prefer the freshly made version now and if you have a food processor or hand blender it is incredibly simple to make. This pesto Siciliano, even when tomato are not in season, turns out really well. The anchovies salt the pesto beautifully, giving more depth of flavour then mere salt would without tasting fishy. Almonds provide bite and character and raisins a slight sweetness. Fragrant basil rounds off the ensemble. Having eaten it for the fourth day in a row, I can say that I am starting to exhibit my brother’s obsessive eating habit.
Secrets to success:
- If you’re making this out of season (like I was guilty of) and the tomatoes don’t taste quite up to scratch, add a generous tablespoon of tomato puree for extra depth of flavour.
- If you are vegetarian you can leave out the anchovies and then season generously at the end.
- Try and buy the best quality cherry tomatoes you can find.
- If you don’t have a food processor or hand blender, you could chop everything finely by hand and then combine in a bowl, beating hard to combine