It was with very mixed emotion I said goodbye to Michael a few Saturdays ago—I was off to Pennsylvania for some early-birthday celebrations with my family, while he was getting ready to head to England for a near-week-long trip. This wasn’t the longest he’s ever been away, but it is the furthest, and not having him handy when I was cooking, even remotely, meant that I was really on my own when it came to meal planning that week. And unlike the last time he was away for a long stretch, I wouldn’t have nearly enough time as I have in the past to plan my meals; after all, there was a Clásico to watch, and a barbell to lift, and groceries to buy on Sunday once I returned home from the Stamford train station. Fortunately, I was wise enough to ask for Made in Sicily for my birthday from my family, so I had a quiet ride on the Keystone to flip through its sizable pages.
It’s a pretty exhaustive tome on all things Sicilian that’s heavy on the vegetable, pasta, and seafood dishes, and it made me wish a few times at least that my birthday was a little earlier on the calendar so I’d have more time to take advantage of the many delicious tomato dishes on display. Other recipes definitely intrigued me until I realized the called for bottarga or uni (i.e. sea urchin roe), two ingredients that aren’t exactly cheap here in the U.S., but perhaps if I’m feeling particularly adventurous (and flush with cash), there may come a time to treat myself if only to try it in the future. I settled on a recipe that I had seen before, but never made from this book: a pesto trapanese that was exactly what I wanted: a fresh sauce made thicker by the inclusion of almonds and more refreshing with a healthy addition of mint. It may not need the processing I put it through via the blender, but I prefer a blended pesto over a very rustic one, and I loved how it coated every strand of the bucatini.
I couldn’t decide on a meat dish, but I knew I needed something more than just pasta, so I bought a half-pound of shrimp and whipped up some gambas al ajillo as an appetizer. Because of course I was craving some Spanish food.
But I went back to Made in Sicily again on Monday, this time taking on a chickpea and calamari soup that wasn’t difficult to make, but does seem to benefit from having sufficient time to properly cook. Going the incredibly-authentic route of soaking my own chickpeas I followed the cooking times to the letter, but when I went at it with the immersion blender it seemed that everything was still just a little too al dente to puree to the texture I wanted. Had this been a weekend meal I would have let it simmer for another fifteen minutes, but I didn’t have the patience to do that and to then let the soup strain through a sieve. I ended up doing neither; “rustic” does have its place after all.
If you can get your hands on some tomatoes that still smell delicious, you should definitely try this sauce. It’s quick to make but satisfying even if you don’t whip up a meat secondi to go alongside.
Adapted from Made in Sicily
- 1/3 cup plus two tablespoons almonds
- 18 oz plum tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 cups (most of a bunch) of fresh mint, shredded
- 1 oz plus a tablespoon of olive oil
First, toast the almonds: either in an oven heated to 350 degrees or a small pan on the stove, toast the almonds until golden. Let cool slightly, then chop well. Then you’ll blanch the tomatoes: bring a pot of water up to a boil, and add tomatoes. (Scoring them with a little x on one end of the tomato is helpful to help loosen peel.) Let them boil for ten seconds, then move immediately to an ice bath. When cool enough to handle, peel the tomatoes, slice in half, and scoop out the seeds. Place into a blender carafe with the garlic, salt, mint, and pulse to combine (save some mint for garnish). Whir in the olive oil, and then add to freshly-cooked pasta of your choice.