Unlike many dishes we see in the Inspector Montalbano TV series (such as the Arancini), pasta with pesto is not a dish that originated in Sicilian cuisine. However, it is a popular dish in Sicily, with some variations of pesto recipes found in northern Italy and other regions. Sicilian pesto sauce is called Pesto alla Trapanese, the Montalbano Basil Pesto Recipe, and I share it in this article.
Basil for Pesto Sauce
Basil is a popular herb in Sicilian cuisine, where it is used to flavour a wide range of foods. As a result, pots of basil are prevalent in the windows and terraces of Sicilian homes, as people cultivate it for fresh culinary use. It can also be found in building courtyards, terraces, and gardens.
Furthermore, basil is said to have therapeutic characteristics and is used in tea to alleviate headaches and digestion.
What is the difference between Montalbano Sicilian Pesto and Northern Italian Pesto?
Pesto is traditional pasta from the Liguria region of Italy, where it is made with garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, and fresh basil leaves. Sicilian pesto, also known as Pesto alla Trapanese, has some differences in its preparation and ingredients.
Instead of pine nuts, Pesto alla Trapanese uses toasted almonds, which gives it a sweeter and less bitter taste. The Parmesan cheese is replaced by ricotta salata or caciocavallo, and the garlic can be replaced or softened by onion.
In short, Pesto alla Trapanese has a sweeter and less bitter taste compared to traditional Ligurian pesto, as it uses toasted almonds instead of pine nuts and is usually milder in flavour as fewer garlic cloves are used or onion is used.
Why do Italians like Pesto?
Pesto is a sauce that originally comes from the Liguria region in northern Italy, and it is not as traditional or popular in Sicily as it is in Liguria. However, Sicilians do enjoy pesto, and it is becoming more and more common to see it served in Sicilian restaurants, because of the flavour, it is versatile and easy to combine and adding ingredients influencing the core of the basil sauce and become popular, increasing popularity all over the world.
Pesto is an excellent and intriguing ingredient to utilize and reinterpret in their own manner, or to build a fusion of Sicilian and Ligurian cuisine since Sicilian cooks are recognized for their inventiveness and ability to blend diverse flavours and ingredients to create new dishes.
Keep in mind that Pesto is not a traditional Sicilian sauce. As Sicilian cuisine is rich and diverse, you can find many other traditional sauces to enjoy with your pasta. For example, in Sicily, you will find basil pesto with no garlic, basil pesto with tomato sauce (called Pesto Rosso), basil pesto with almonds, basil pesto with pistachio, mostly no garlic because Sicilians don’t use as much garlic as Northern Italian.
How to Prepare the Montalbano Basil Pesto Recipe?
There are many variations of pesto recipes, but the traditional Basil Pesto recipe is quite simple and easy to make. The dish was served in episodes of the famous TV series “Inspector Montalbano”, and I’ll describe here a recipe that is quite similar to what was shown in the episodes.
Let’s see how to prepare Montalbano’s Pasta with Pesto alla Trapanese.
Montalbano Basil Pesto Recipe: Ingredients for Pesto Pasta
Here is a recipe for making traditional Montalbano Basil Pesto (Pesto alla Trapanese):
- 1 pound of spaghetti or other pasta of your choice
- 1 cup of fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup of toasted almonds
- 1/4 cup of grated ricotta salata or caciocavallo cheese
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Reserve a few basil leaves for presentation
Montalbano Basil Pesto Recipe: Instructions for Pesto Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until is cooked al dente.
Meanwhile, in a food processor or mortar and pestle, combine the basil leaves, toasted almonds, grated cheese, onion, and a pinch of salt. Pulse or grind until the ingredients are finely chopped (almost a paste).
Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to pulse or grind the ingredients, until the pesto is smooth and well combined.
Taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning as needed. May need more salt or pepper. That’s up to your preferences.
Finally, drain the pasta and set aside a cup of boiling water. In a saucepan over low heat, toss the pasta with the pesto, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if the pasta appears dry.
The pesto is now finished and ready to use. Toss your Montalbano basil pesto with your favourite pasta or use it as a spread or sauce on sandwiches, pizza, and other foods. You can store the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you plan on storing it for longer, you can also place a layer of olive oil on top to preserve the colour and flavour of the pesto.
It is important to use fresh ingredients, and in this case, to use Genoese basil, which is the traditional basil used in this recipe. You can experiment with different types of cheese, like Pecorino, or different nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachio (a popular ingredient of Sicilian cuisine).
Pecorino cheese is a type of Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk (Pecora is sheep in Italian) very popular in Ragusa, Montalbano’s filming location. It is a hard cheese with a strong, sharp, and salty flavor, and it can be aged for varying lengths of time to produce different varieties.
Finally, you can decorate the dish with some fresh basil leaves.
Looking for more Inspector Montalbano Recipes? Just follow the links to our post on Montalbano’s favourite food.
Montalbano Pasta Ncasciata Recipe