The other day, I mentioned cooking a few things from Jamie's Italy and then went on to mention a black bean mango salad and a meal in San Antonio before finishing the story. After making the farro salad, I found a couple of other items to try. The funghi al forno ripieni di ricotta became the first course before the spaghetti alla trapanese. The stuffed mushrooms were filled with ricotta mixed with oregano, lemon zest, parmigianno reggiano, and finely chopped red chile. It was so simple but a little different than a usual stuffed mushroom. The lemon and chile were great accents to the smooth, mild ricotta.
The spaghetti couldn’t have been easier to prepare, and if you have homegrown or locally grown tomatoes, this dish highlights them perfectly. The sauce is a raw pesto of sorts to which chopped tomatoes are added. Because they’re not cooked at all, the dish is really all about the freshness and flavor of the tomatoes. This was a fun meal to make, and as noted in the recipe, the prep work can easily be finished while the pasta water boils. Jamie also notes that he prefers cherry tomatoes for this, but any good, ripe tomatoes will work fine.
I used a food processor, but a mortar and pestle are recommended. I’ve always heard resulting textures are better with a mortar and pestle, but I’ve never had the patience to try it. So, while the pasta water was brought up to a boil, almonds were chopped to a coarse, powdery consistency in a food processor. That was placed in a large mixing bowl, and then garlic and basil were chopped in the food processor and added to the ground almonds. Parmigiano reggiano was grated and added to the other ingredients, and olive oil and salt and pepper joined all of that. Last, one and a half pounds of tomatoes were chopped, placed in the bowl, and then they were squished and smooshed to break them up and release their juices. The pasta was cooked, drained, and placed in the bowl. While stirring the sauce into the pasta, a little more olive oil was added.
The ingredients don’t actually form a proper pesto. The amount of olive oil was not as much as that needed for pesto, and the tomatoes provided most of the sauce liquid. Instead, the ground almonds added mild, nutty flavor and substance to a basil- and garlic-inflected sauce that was really a vehicle for juicy, ripe summer tomatoes. I pulled this out of the refrigerator for lunch the next day and was faced with a dilemma. I didn’t think the sauce on cold pasta would be as good but I also knew that heating the tomatoes and basil would be disappointing. I went with a half-way approach to re-heating. I got it just warm enough to loosen the olive oil on the pasta but not so much that the tomatoes would start to cook. It was still good, enjoyable, certainly not a bad lunch. However, it simply could not compare to the range of textures and bursting-forth tomato flavor it had when first made.