Who wants to take a trip to the Mediterranean for dinner? Who cares what the weather is doing outside or what sort of day you have had if you can come home to this – gnocchi alla pesto trapanese. Or, if you’re like me and your Italian can politely be described as ‘limited’, a dish best described as pesto and tomato gnocchi.
Let’s be honest though, pesto has a bit of a reputation problem, and much like I did with burgers a while ago, I’m going to try and show you just how good it can be. The problem, for most of us at least, is that pesto is something that we first encountered coming from a supermarket jar. It was a staple at university for me, stirred through recently boiled pasta for a cheap student dinner that could be eaten as easily after a day in the library or at 2am. There’s technically nothing wrong with this pesto, but it’s usually a very pale imitation of what happens when you make it fresh. Plus I think we’d all rather not read the ingredients list on those jars…
Fresh pesto is really simple. Traditionally it is pine nuts, basil, a hard cheese (like parmesan) and some olive oil, all blended together, but if that doesn’t float your boat – or more likely some of those ingredients aren’t in your kitchen right now – it can be adapted pretty easily. I for one have done it several other ways – with avocado and chilli, with spinach for a friend who couldn’t eat the pine nuts, with sun dried tomatoes, the list goes on and on. The moral of the tale is that it’s so flexible I would strongly encourage you to have a go.
Both eating this dish and again now writing about it, all I really want to do is go on holiday. This dish has sunshine, the Mediterranean and Sicily written all over it, and whilst it is no way an authentic take on Sicilian cuisine, I am now seriously considering looking up how much flights to Palermo are. Anyone want to come with me?
This might not be a million miles in concept away from that belt tightening (in more ways than one) student dinner, but I can guarantee you that this version is so much better. And if you try to make this dish and find the pesto either difficult or not as good as your pre-made jar version, I would be most surprised indeed.
This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite new cookbooks – Rick Stein’s Long Weekends. I’ve adapted it to be more in line with what I wanted to eat than his more traditional recipe, so this is an original recipe, inspired by his. It serves four and should no more than about twenty minutes to make.
- 60g almonds
- 30g basil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 20 cherry tomatoes
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 500g gnocchi
- 45g parmesan
Start by taking the skin off your almonds. Drop them into a bowl of boiling water and leave for a minute or two, then peel off the brown skins with your fingers. Toast the de-skinned almonds in a hot, dry frying pan – keep them moving, you want to colour them, not burn them – and then decant them into your food processor. Put a pot of water on to boil for your gnocchi.
Use your food processor to turn the almonds into bits the size of breadcrumbs. Chop your garlic and tear up the majority of your basil (leave some to decorate with). Add the garlic and basil into the food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Tip into a bowl and set aside.
Half your tomatoes and put them into the same frying pan as you toasted your almonds in (cut side down onto the hot pan). Let these cook for minute on a high heat until the tomatoes start to cook then add in the balsamic vinegar. Shake up the pan and let the harshness of the vinegar evaporate and the tomatoes cook a little more (2-3 minutes). Remove from the heat.
Cook your gnocchi according to its instructions.
Add your tomatoes into the bowl with the almond mixture, grate most of the parmesan in (leave some to decorate), pour in the olive oil and mix together. Taste and season with salt and pepper as required.
Drain your cooked gnocchi and pour into the pesto mixture. Stir together and serve garnished with the remaining basil and cheese